Now that the dust has officially settled on the Town Center redevelopment legislation, it’s time to look back and acknowledge those most responsible for saving Columbia’s core from piecemeal development. While Taxpayers against Giveaways garnered press attention with their failed attempt to rally any meaningful support for a referendum, not enough has been written about those who fought hard to reverse the course of Town Center development that was being followed by The Rouse Company before they were acquired by General Growth Properties.
First and foremost, a big wag of the wordbones tail goes out to Ken Ulman. Before Ken became county executive he was the county council representative for District 4 which includes Columbia Town Center. Ken fought against The Rouse Company’s plans to develop the Crescent property behind Merriweather Post Pavilion with a mix of housing and retail. They also proposed enclosing the outdoor music venue. Ken believed that Town Center needed a new master plan instead of continued piecemeal development.
Of course it wasn’t all Ken either. He and Columbia benefited from a fortuitous series of events beginning with GGP’s acquisition of The Rouse Company in 2005. The premium price GGP paid for the undeveloped land in Columbia meant that they needed to rethink the Town Center development program. Though the company got off to a bit of a rocky start with their first Columbia General Manager, Doug Godine, they recovered their footing nicely when they bought in Greg Hamm to replace him.
Greg Hamm bought an energy and vision to Columbia that had not been seen since the mid seventies. He worked tirelessly to with the community to fine tune the plans. He never lost sight of the goal even when his company declared bankruptcy in the middle of the process. He fought hard for precious resources to keep the Columbia project moving forward while other GGP development projects around the country were mothballed.
When Mary Kay Sigaty won the council seat vacated by Ken, I believed her to be both anti development and anti business based on her effort to stop the Plaza Residences condominium project. I was wrong. Mary Kay saw GGP’s effort as an opportunity to fix what was wrong with Town Center. Her sponsorship of the CB58 and CB59 was an act of political courage in the face of the vocal opponents led by Delegate Liz Bobo.
And finally, Jessica Feldmark deserves special kudos for her tireless behind the scenes work to keep the process on track. While some may say she was just doing her job as Ken’s chief of staff, the fact of the matter is that she went above and beyond what could normally be expected.
Certainly many others played an important role and probably deserve mention but it was these four people who really made it happen and spent endless nights in meetings and public hearings to see it through.
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