Thursday, May 09, 2013

Beans Last Days

Thirteen years ago, at The Rouse Company annual shareholders meeting, Tony Deering announced that catalog retailer LL Bean would be opening its first ever retail (non-outlet) store at The Mall. The story goes that this announcement upstaged the retailers own plans to break the news. To show their displeasure at this preemptive PR strike by a real estate developer, LL Bean went ahead and opened their Tysons Corner store first.

Despite this corporate silliness, LL Bean opened its Columbia store in May of 2001, a few months after Tysons Corner. This Sunday, after twelve years selling khakis and canoes to HoCo locos, the Columbia store will close. By midsummer the 30,000 square foot building that housed them will be gone, replaced by a new plaza and a reopening of the old main entrance.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

In This Months Business Monthly

When my family moved into the Bryant Woods neighborhood in Columbia in the summer of 1968 there were model homes on our cul de sac making it a regular stop for the Columbia tour buses. There was 7-11 store nearby with a snack bar but the real action was up at the Wilde Lake Village Center where, in addition to a grocery store, there was a butcher, a bookstore, a cheese shop, a pharmacy with a soda fountain, a women’s clothing store and a record store. The village center was the social and commercial hub of the community. One of the highlights of the holiday season was when the village center would host an open house. As Columbia residents visited the different stores, each merchant provided some type of holiday fare. The punch that Columbia Bank and Trust ladled out was particularly popular.

For some residents of Columbia, this was the embodiment of the Jim Rouse vision.

Only it wasn't.

In the late sixties, Columbia was still a small town with a population of less than 10,000. A forlorn silo stood where The Mall is today.

It didn't last long. The true Rouse vision was to build a city ten times that size. By the beginning of the seventies residents of the new city began to get new places to gather. Oakland Mills village center came online in 1969 and Harper's Choice got their own village center in 1971. Wilde Lake was no longer something unique, it was simply one of three.

The biggest change for Wilde Lake though came in 1972 when that lonely silo was replaced with a regional mall. The bookstore and clothing store moved out of Wilde Lake and into The Mall. The slow decline of the centers fortunes had begun. By the mid seventies memories of those early year holiday open house nights had already begun to fade.

You can read this months column here.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Rain Clouds

Rain. Nobody seems to be enjoying the rain today. It doesn't help that its cold too, at least for May.

I was thinking about this as I drove from The Mall back to my office this afternoon during one of the heavier downpours. It occurred to me that rain is a getting a bad rap this spring. Thanks to the General Assembly, Marylanders have a new to tax to associate with this weather event. The very term “rain tax” comes off as an affront to Mother Nature.

I think it’s doomed.

What started with grumbling on the fringes of the left and the right is now becoming a bipartisan backlash. The lefties are pissed because this is a tax that treats everyone equally, rich or poor. The righties hated it because they hate anything that includes the word tax. It was one thing when Repub county exec Laura Nueman came out against it but when a prominent Dem like city councilperson Mary Pat Clarke added her voice to the fray, it got my attention.

Finally, here’s an issue that both parties can come together on. This could be the beginning of the end of the rain tax, at least in its current form. I suffer no illusion that this tax will actually go away. It will quietly get repackaged into some other environmental or public utilities legislation. Something less susceptible to a nickname like rain tax.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Moving Stuff

I've spent more time thinking about things to post here than I have writing them. The fact of the matter is that I've been a little preoccupied lately. My real job has caused a bit of writers slack.

I have been going through a transition at work. The company I've represented for the past fifteen years or so, ceased to exist last month. It wasn't a surprise. For the past year the principals had been working through the process of becoming the Maryland office of the national brokerage firm Lee & Associates.  At the end of March it was finally a done deal. Literally overnight we went from an office on Dobbin Road with four people to an office in Gateway with seven. We have new everything and while that is nice in many ways it still requires having to deal with new passwords, new copy machine, new phone system, and so on.

Recall that I am an old dog and all of the sudden I’m being hit with a lot of new tricks.

It’s all good, even those hiccups you always encounter in a new space. This morning for instance we arrived to find all office communications completely shut down, no phones, no server, no Internet. It was noon before that got ironed out.

In a way this move, like the others I've been through before, provides first hand knowledge for my clients. When I suggest that moving their offices will be disruptive in ways they may not have anticipated, I speak from experience.

Perhaps you’re wondering what the picture of the Rouse brother statue has to do with any of this. The answer is nothing. I just happen to like the shot.

Growler Guy

Beer is best when it’s fresh from the tap and one of the best ways to enjoy that freshness at home is the beer growler. Last year the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation to allow HoCo restaurants and liquor stores to sell draft beers in growlers. Less than one year later I've become a regular growler guy.

Growlers are also one of the best ways to enjoy the seemingly endless progression of craft beers. At the Wine Bin in Ellicott City for instance, they feature six growler offerings at any given time. Once a tap goes dry it is replaced with something new. There is always something different to try when I go in for a refill. Since they also offer a 32 oz growler you don’t have to make a big commitment to any one brew. Anyone can drink two pints of beer they only sort of like, right?

There are some things to take into consideration with growlers. For one, they don’t keep long. If you bring home beer in growler you should drink it within a week. The longer it sits, the more it loses that freshness. How it’s filled could be an issue as well. In his Thirsty in Seattle blog, Dan Swanson writes he’s “had enough flat, oxidized growlers to know that consistency in properly filling growlers is a big problem, at least at some establishments.  Let’s look at the array of filling technique advice.  Some folks say you should bottom-fill a growler using a tube.  Others say you can just fill from the top.  There are even more pro tips: Use a CO2 purge, make sure the growler is cold, cap on foam, use plastic polyseal caps (not the cheap white metal ones), and fill using counter pressure.  With all the varying information out there, it’s no wonder growlers aren't consistently filled flawlessly.”

“If your growler was not filled and capped properly, the beer will start to oxidize and go flat the minute you walk out the door.”

So far, I haven’t experienced any freshness failures. I guess the Wine Bin boys are using proper filling techniques but I can just as easily appreciate how that might not always be the case.

Still I like the upside. As Josh Christie writes in Brews and Books, "Growlers are also environmental friendly and often less expensive than prepackaged beer, which works out for everyone.”

I’ll drink to that.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Wooly Bully

It’s too late for this year but you might want to pencil the 41st Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival into your calendar for next spring. I readily admit to being surprised at how big it is. The two day event at the Howard County Fairgrounds attracts about 85,000 visitors from all over. It is the premier festival “celebrating all things sheep and wool” in the world.

It’s free too.
We watched sheep dogs go through their paces, ate lamb sausage sandwiches, sampled lambs milk cheese, and checked out at a lot stuff made out of wool.

There was even sheep art. Conni Tӧgel has a collection of works she calls Sheep Incognito, perfect for this crowd. This work is entitled “Ewe Tube.”
It’s a dry event and after all that lamb I was a little thirsty so to keep in the spirit of things I picked up a six pack of Baba Black Lager on the way home. Not baaaaad.


All in all, it was a wooly bully day.

You can see more pictures of the 40th Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival here.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

HoCo’s Outer Beltway

Since moving to the corporate colony of Columbia Gateway I've begun using an interstate highway to move between Columbia and Ellicott City. From Route 32 to the south, to Route 100 to the north, I-95 has become part of makeshift HoCo outer beltway.

The numbers bear this out. According to the MDOT traffic maps, average daily vehicle volume on I-95 increases from an average daily volume of 190,680 cars below Route 32 to a peak volume of 197,902 vehicles between Route 175 and Route 100. After MD Route 100 the volume drops back down to the 191,280.

Today, at 4:00 PM, as I merged on to 95 from 175, traffic had slowed to 35 mph. By the time I hit 100 it was picking back up again. 

Even with the slower speed, I managed to make it from my office in Gateway to my appointment in Ellicott City in just over 10 minutes.

Mumbles & Squeaks Closing

Mumbles & Squeaks is not just a toy store with a great name, it’s a great toy store. For twenty some years Ed and Frank offered HoCo locos an alternative to big box and mall toy stores. Mumbles & Squeaks was like a curated exhibit of simple and unique toys. I don’t believe they carried anything electronic.

I refer to them in past tense because yesterday, on their Facebook page, Ed and Frank announced that they are closing up shop “to fulfill a long time dream of becoming beach bums in Florida.”

Can I come?

They will remain open until the end of the month as they sell off their inventory.

“We travel lite so we will only take our memories. Everything must go! Please come by wish us well! Share our news and our sale with all your friends so we don't miss anyone. You may forward this message to them.

Please come to Mumbles and Squeaks to share a story, a hug, a tear. As we said, this is bitter sweet. We won't say, "Goodbye." We would rather say, "We will save you a seat on the beach!"

Mumbles and Squeaks was one of those businesses that make Ellicott City unique. They will be missed.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

On the Fringe of a Boomtown

Bloomberg recently ranked the Top 12 American Boomtowns. The business editors “sorted through U.S. Census data for metropolitan areas to rank those with the greatest population growth, then scored areas on growth in gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation.”

They should have labeled them Boom-metros though, by the way they lumped areas together to achieve a certain population threshold. For instance, the number one Bloomberg boomer is Austin-Round Rock, Texas. A quick calculation using Google Earth puts Round Rock about 16.5 miles from Austin, as the crow flies.

I point this out because Washington DC “which includes neighboring towns in Virginia and Maryland” is Bloomberg boomer number 6. Using the same methodology I used with Boomberg one, I determined that 16.5 miles in a straight line from the center of DC would bring you right about to Fulton on the southern fringe of HoCo. Close enough to feel the booms ripples.

In some ways HoCo, with its 5.2% unemployment rate is even doing better than its next door boom-metro area where it is averaging 5.5%.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Kimco QR Fail

This afternoon I spotted this QR code stuck to one of the windows of the former Produce Galore space in the Wilde Lake Village Center. I was curious to see if it would enlighten me about the progress that Kimco is making on the redevelopment of the center. I whipped my i5 and gave it a quick scan.

The following message immediately appeared on my phone:

The Marketing Package for the selected site was not found. Possible reasons include:
  • The site reference ID is incorrect, invalid or no longer in use
  • The site has been sold or removed
  • Documentation is not available
I scanned it again just to make sure. Same message.
It’s obvious that something is about to get cooking besides fast food at the old village center. There is now a stockade construction fence surrounding the former KFC building and there's an asbestos removal notice taped to another storefront window.

Maybe I should have asked Siri what was going on.


Initially I pined for the day that the iPhone might become available on Verizon. Back in 2009, when Apple’s revolutionary phone hit the market you had to be on the AT&T network to use it, legally anyway. Like many, I decided to stick it out and hope for the day when it might become available on Verizon.

While I was waiting Android phones started getting better and better. I actually passed up the first opportunity I had to get a Verizon iPhone opting instead to stick with my Motorola Droid X which I’ve kept long past its useful life. I figured I’d probably just stick with an Android phone when it came time to replace it. Some people were even saying that Samsung's new Galaxy phones are superior to the iPhone.

And then I got an iPad. The iPad with the CoStarGo product is the most powerful tool in commercial real estate. It’s not available on the Android operating system. No iPad, no CoStarGo.

This is when I learned that Apple doesn't play well with others. My Android phone and my iPad had communication issues.

What finally pushed me over the edge though, was how easily the iPhone worked with our Microsoft servers. Last week as we transitioned into our new offices I could not get my phone to sync my email but I noticed that the people in the office who had iPhones experienced no trouble.

The next morning I was at the Verizon store picking up the iPhone 5.

Can you love a phone?

Perhaps it’s just that initial passion you get at the beginning of a relationship but I have to admit that I sometimes just like to hold my new i5. As David Poque points out in this column in The New York Times, the iPhone 5 is the thinnest smartphone in the world “just under four ounces; it disappears completely in your pocket. This iPhone is so light, tall and flat, it’s well on its way to becoming a bookmark.” 

Its beauty is matched by its elegant performance. It’s rather fast too.

 "The iPhone 5 is now a 4G LTE phone, meaning that in certain lucky cities, you get wicked-fast Internet connections."

When I returned to the office I was able to sync with our servers on the first try. Smugness ensued.

And the best part, it gets along very well with my iPad.

I think I'm becoming a fanboy.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Funny Numbers

David Gertler should be on the school board. He is funny, smart and has a passion for mathematics yet twice now HoCo voters have chosen lesser candidates over him. As far as I’m concerned it’s a loss for our students.

Then again, we really haven’t lost him. Despite his electoral loss, David has remained engaged with the system by organizing the first countywide STEM Festival to be held Sunday, June 9th at HCC.

He also does stand up comedy which distinguishes him from your stereotypical math geek.

David was one of those guests we felt we could jump right in with since he’s pretty well versed in HoCo issues. In fact, our freewheeling chat about HoCo loco stories almost didn't leave us enough time to talk about his upcoming festival.

We had plenty of news items to fill the show, particularly on the political front with the announced retirements of Senator Jim Robey and delegates Jim Malone and Steve DeBoy and Ken Ulmans budget.

You can listen to 88th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

More Bad News for Creig

Occasionally I get asked about a post I wrote back on December 20, 2011 concerning a lawsuit filed against HoCo über realtor, Creig Northrop. “Whatever happened with that?” they’ll ask.

I had no idea. It seemed to have faded off into that silent world of negotiated settlements.

Until today that is. In his column in The Washington Post, Robert McCartney writes that an unrelated new suit, filed in federal court, alleges that Creig “received hundreds of thousands of dollars of illicit payments over a period of 13 years to send settlement business to a local title firm.”

That would be Lakeview Title. McCartney also mentions them.

“The agreement provided that Northrop would “designate Lakeview as its exclusive preferred settlement and title company,” and would not “designate or endorse any entity” other than Lakeview for such business.

The new lawsuit alleges that the marketing deal was a clear violation of a U.S. law, known as RESPA, which prohibits a firm from receiving compensation in exchange for referrals for real estate settlement services.”

The column also shed some light on the case from my earlier post.

“Much of the earlier lawsuit, in state court, was defeated on technical grounds. A judge ruled that the complaint didn't qualify as a class action and that the statute of limitations had expired. The plaintiffs plan to appeal.”

Now you know.

Lt. Governor Ulman

My friend, and HoCo loco political operative, Roger Caplan has generally dismissed the notion of Ken Ulman playing backup quarterback to the guv. “I can’t see Ken carrying a clipboard,” he likes to say.

Maybe he can’t but apparently Ken can. The prospect of a Brown-Ulman gubernatorial ticket is beginning to look like a done deal.

According to this story by John Wagner in The Washington Post “several people familiar with talks between Brown and Ulman described the Howard executive as the clear front-runner for the No. 2 spot on Brown’s ticket.”

“Ulman’s interest in the job has been prompted in part, the sources said, by a growing realization of the challenges he would face in winning the nomination and a sense that he is young enough that he could run for governor later in his career.”

It would be a pretty formidable ticket.

"Brown, a former delegate for Prince George’s County who served a tour of duty in Iraq as an Army reservist, is the handpicked successor of O’Malley (D), who is term-limited and weighing a 2016 presidential bid. If elected, Brown, 51, would be Maryland’s first black governor and only the third African American elected governor in the country since Reconstruction.

Ulman has gained recognition for expanding access to health care in his county, among other initiatives. Now 38, Ulman was 32 when first elected, making him the youngest county executive in Maryland’s history."

Those aren't my words. Those are a real reporters perspective and provides a great story line for a campaign.

A narrative like this coupled with the support of the incumbent guv immediately makes Brown-Ulman the front runners.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

No Scanners No Problem

On more than one occasion I've encountered an empty scanner rack at Giant. I hate this. No scanners mean no Scan It for me, not on this trip anyway. I’m a big fan of the little handheld buggers so that when I find none available I get a little bummed.
They've fixed that problem, at least for people with smartphones. Earlier this week I saw this notice in the Columbia Palace Giant announcing a Scan It mobile app.

I've haven’t tried it out yet but it sure sounds like a good idea.

And…this week I bought my first iPhone. More on that later…

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Fire in the West

From my experience, the best way to sum up the politics of the HoCo Fire Department is to say it’s complicated. Whenever a major issue crops up like a change in fire districts or, more recently, the contingent firefighter program, the internal battle lines are not always clearly drawn, at least it can appear that way to this outsider.

It is clear that passions can run high yet it’s hard to get anyone within the department to speak out. It's almost as if everyone wants to keep their stuff within the family.

The exception to this is the Lisbon Volunteer Fire Company. As they were with the fire district dust up, the Lisbon firefighters have taken the point on opposing the plan to eliminate the contingent employee program. Contingent employees are paid part-time workers who assist in the staffing of volunteer fire companies, notably West Friendship, Elkridge and Lisbon. According to this story by Blair Ames in The Sun, Fire Chief Bill Goddard believes that ending the program will allow the department to operate more “efficiently with career and volunteer personnel working together.”

"The only people that suffer in this is the community," said Kenny Livesay, a volunteer firefighter at the Lisbon station. "It's setting us up for failure."

This is likely more indicative of the political disconnect between the urban east the rural west and a desire to preserve a way of life that is rapidly disappearing in HoCo than it is a disagreement with fellow firefighters .

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Spring Fever

The blog has slipped down my priority list lately. It’s not that I don’t have the time is just that I've chosen to spend that time differently. For instance, Mama Wordbones and I spent the last five weeks binge watching Homeland. We had both heard people rave about this series so when FiOS gave us two months of Showtime for a free trial we decided to check it out. We were hooked on the first episode.

Work has cramped my blogging time as well. In case you hadn't noticed, commercial real estate in HoCo is becoming red hot. I've lost count of the number of projects underway; Whole Foods, Clyde’s, Merrill Lynch building, the Metropolitan, The Mall expansion, Wilde Lake Village Center. There is more to come too, with at least two more projects being announced in downtown Columbia alone before the summer is over.

If its any consolation, I've at least been thinking about posts for To2C. One of the topics that has started germinating in my twisted mind is the dynamics life in HoCo’s largest business park, Columbia Gateway. It’s really another Columbia village of sorts. People may not live in Gateway but a very large population spends the better part of each work day within its bounds.

How many?

The National Association of Industrial and Office Parks recently concluded that the average US worker occupies 176 square feet of office space. Columbia Gateway has 4,185,941 square feet of office space so that would work out to 23,782.1 people. That doesn't include those who work in buildings that aren't classified as office, which would include most single story buildings in the park.

That’s a lot of people, the majority of which will never have the chance to interact with each other within their corporate village.

Maybe we can change that. My colleague TW often quips about Colonel Gateway in reference to the state highway signs leading to the entrance off of 175 that reads “Col Gateway Drive.”

Maybe we can create a fictional character called Colonel Gateway and throw a big birthday party for his fictional birthday.

I’m thinking April 1st would be the perfect fit.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On A Roll

When the Howard Hughes Corporation purchased the former Ryland Headquarters building last August, it was more than half empty. Yesterday, with the announcement that GP Strategies had leased three floors in the nine story office building, it’s now 94% leased. In the commercial real estate game this is a home run.

Howard Hughes is beginning to make home runs look easy. In his remarks at yesterday’s ceremony, John DeWolf, Senior Vice President of Howard Hughes told the guests that downtown Columbia was one of the top three projects for the company. The other two were in Hawaii and New York City.  

There is more exciting news to come in Columbia too, including the pending announcement of the new restaurant for the former Red Pearl space. The company has actually found itself in the enviable position of having to manage announcements so that each new development gets its own time in the spotlight.

And speaking of spotlights, Ken Ulman was also on hand yesterday to help celebrate this latest downtown development and I took the opportunity to chat briefly with him. I asked the exec what he thought about the talk of Dutch Ruppersberger getting into the 2014 gubernatorial race. Ken did not betray any concern about this development. He suggested that it may already too late for Dutch in terms of both grassroots organization and fundraising. Apparently any monies Dutch has raised for his congressional races cannot be used for a statewide race.

In the meantime, Ken can look forward to more opportunities to stand in the spotlight in the coming months as downtown Columbia continues on a roll.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Comedy is Hard

This weekend, the 2nd annual Spring Celebration in Ellicott City featured four comedy acts in addition to a wide assortment of bands on three stages. I was able to catch partial performances of two of them; Michael Freidman at the Tiber Park stage and an act called SM Stefano Stratakis at the Wine Bin stage.

I came to the conclusion that grassroots loco comedy is hard. Just because someone tells you that you are funny doesn't necessarily mean that funniness translates into a successful stand up act. Both of these acts struggled to elicit any kind of audience reaction. As a few people pointed out, all successful comedians likely started out this way. I couldn't help but think that this is a very hard road to travel.
Other than the comedy acts, you’d have to call the Spring Celebration a big success. The weather was perfect and the crowds turned out. Dave Carney told me that the ECBA is working on a summer festival too, most likely to occur in mid July.

You can see additional pictures of Saturdays’ event here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

HoCo Losing Corporate HQ

On Tuesday shareholders of Columbia based Arbitron voted overwhelming in favor of being acquired by New York based Nielsen, combining the dominant radio rating service with the dominant television rating service. If the deal passes muster with the antitrust cops, the television guys will win and HoCo will lose a major corporate headquarters. According to this story by Gary Haber in the Baltimore Business Journal the radio ratings company “is one of the largest employers in Howard County. It employs about 860 people in the Baltimore area, out of a U.S. workforce of about 1,000.”

The ratings business is struggling to keep up with tech savvy consumers. In an article entitled “The Nielsen Family is Dead” in Wired, Tom Vanderbilt writes that “Nielsen and others have been scrambling to generate a new kind of TV rating, one that takes into account all of the activity that occurs on screens other than a television.”

“Since the 1970s, television has been ruled by the Nielsen Family—25,000 households whose TV habits collectively provide a statistical snapshot of a nation’s viewing behavior. Over the years, the Nielsen rating has been tweaked, but it still serves one fundamental purpose: to gauge how many people are watching a given show on a conventional television set. But that’s not how we watch any more. Hulu, Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Roku, iTunes, smartphone, tablet—none of these platforms or devices are reflected in the Nielsen rating. (In February Nielsen announced that this fall it would finally begin including Internet streaming to TV sets in its ratings.)”

Arbitron has been trying to keep up as well. In 2005 they began rolling out the Portable People Meter which was meant to phase out its dependence on diaries. Four years later they encountered some unanticipated regulatory blow back.

Change may be constant but it can also be unpredictable.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Spring Celebration 2013

This Saturday the Ellicott City Business Association will host their 2nd Annual Spring Celebration in the historic district. Live entertainment, craft beers and Earth Day activities will be spread up and down Main Street from noon to 7 PM.

If Foot’s Forecast is right, the weather should be perfect. “Morning clouds will break to a fantastic afternoon! Skies will gradually become sunnier, with highs reaching generally the lower 60s.”

Perfect weather for festing!

On a Clear Day You Can See Best Buy

Some people can spend their entire working life in the same office with the same morning commute and the same view. Not me. Since beginning my professional career I've occupied sixteen different offices in five states. Three of those offices were windowless. I liked them the least.

My sixteenth move has landed me in the Gateway Corporate Community in Columbia. Corporate community is an apt label for the 600 acre business park that contains almost seven million square feet of commercial space but no residences.

It wasn't my first choice. If I had my way we would have located our new office in downtown Columbia. That said, I have to admit that I’m warming to life in this corporate community. I have a second floor view overlooking thickly wooded open space. In the distance I can just barely make out the Best Buy sign at Gateway Exchange. In matter of weeks, as the trees leaf out, I probably won’t even see that. In my former office my view was of another building.

Gateway is also Columbia’s largest disenfranchised community. Even though it is larger than any of the ten Columbia villages and its building owners pay the same CPRA lien as village residents, it has no representative on the governing body of the Columbia Association.

It’s our own HoCo loco version of taxation without representation.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Spring Stuff

The only thing I dislike about spring is that many of the acts of natures great color show end too soon. A week or sometimes just days can dramatically change the scene from brilliant color to something greenish. Catching the really big shows like the cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin is often a matter of luck and timing.

Columbia looks good. There are flowering trees all over the town and some like the bradford pear have already done their spring thing. Others like the kwanzan cherry are just getting amped up. 
 Life is returning to the lakefront too. Earlier today I walked by Clyde’s. The new façade is up and new employees are being trained. Paul Kraft, the general manager, told me that they hope to reopen by next Monday. He let me peek in the door and, from what little I could see, I was impressed. New ceiling, new lighting, new back bar, new carpet, you get the picture. It’s familiar yet different. “That’s what $5 million will get you,” he quipped.

I understand it also paid for a kicking new kitchen and bathrooms.
There will be announcement soon about who will takeover the former Red Pearl space. I've sworn not to reveal what I know even though it’s killing me. I’ll just say that I’m excited.
You can find more pictures here that I snapped around town while goofing off a little this afternoon.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Busboys and Poets

A couple of months ago I discovered Busboys and Poets for the first time. I was in Hyattsville on a work assignment and came across their newest location in the Gateway Arts District. I had heard the name before but I’d never been in so I decided to check it out.
 My first reaction was that Busboys and Poets would rock in Columbia. That was only further reinforced when I read how they describe themselves on their website.

“Busboys and Poets is a community where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted...a place to take a deliberate pause and feed your mind, body and soul...a space for art, culture and politics to intentionally collide...we believe that by creating such a space we can inspire social change and begin to transform our community and the world.”

Am I crazy or does this sound like it came right out the Jim Rouse playbook?
I decided to see if I could make a Columbia location happen so I sent an email to Andy Shallal, the impresario behind Busboys and Poets. I refer to Andy as the impresario because, as Judith Rosen writes in Publishers Weekly, “I’m not really a restaurateur,” says Shallal, who opened his first restaurant in 1987. “I’m an activist with food. We all eat. There’s a commonality.” 

He responded to my email in relatively short order, thanking me for the “vote of confidence” in his venture. Regarding downtown Columbia he wrote that he’d “keep this in mind.”

Now the real work begins. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

The More Things Change…

While cleaning out my desk for our move last week I found a copy of The Sun from June 9, 2002. Presumably I saved this particular paper because it featured an in-depth report on Columbia on the occasion of the towns 35th birthday.

As I reread the piece to decide whether it was worthy of continued retention, I chuckled when I came across the following paragraphs.

Lately, some loco activists have begun carping about the need to do more for low income housing in downtown Columbia, besides the Columbia Downtown Housing Corporation which was established as a part of the redevelopment legislation. The trust receives its funding to provide affordable housing from a fee assessed on every new housing unit created in downtown. It was seeded with a million dollar check from Howard Hughes.

Eleven years ago nothing like this existed or was proposed.

Is it enough?

Of course not. Providing low income housing in an area of relatively high housing values will always be a challenge, just as it was back in 1967.  Instead of demanding more subsidized housing in one place from one developer though, perhaps the better strategy would be to create a countywide housing trust that assesses a fee on all new residential units in HoCo.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

How Animals Eat Their Food

Peanut told me this short clip garnered over 20 million hits in five days on YouTube.
Its classic slapstick stuff and I got a good laugh out of it. Perhaps that reveals something about my intellectual depth.

Anyway…as I've mentioned before, Peanut watches YouTube way more than what I’d call conventional television.

But what is conventional television anymore?

In the most recent issue of Wired, Willa Paskin  points out that streaming video has not only enabled us to watch our favorite shows on any computer with a WiFi connection, it has also changed the very nature of how we watch TV. We are now able to "binge watch” our favorite shows.

“Whatever our televisual drug of choice—Battle­star Galactica, The Wire, Homeland— we've all put off errands and bedtime to watch just one more, a thrilling, draining, dream-­influencing immersion experience that has become the standard way to consume certain TV programs. We've all had the hit of pleasure after an installment ends on some particularly insane cliff-hanger and we remember that we can watch the next episode right now. It’s a relatively recent addition to the pantheon of slightly illicit yet mostly harmless adult pleasures, residing next to eating ice cream for dinner, drinking a beer with lunch, and having sex with someone you probably shouldn't.”

Guilty. Just last Friday we binge watched two episodes of Homeland after we got home from dinner.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Awesome Guests

Jean Parker has served as General Manager of Merriweather Post Pavilion for almost thirty years. She’s held the same job even as the operators changed from Nederlander to SFX to Clear Channel and now I.M.P. She started working at the outdoor theater part time while still a high school student at Mt. Hebron. After graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in computer science, she did a one year stint with Arthur Andersen before returning to Symphony Woods. This is the third time Jean has been on our show.

And speaking of Symphony Woods, Jean told us she “loves the Inner Arbor plan.”

“CA is doing lots of great things…it’s all good.”

The future looks bright for Merriweather too, particularly now that the Maryland General Assembly has codified the permitted noise levels within a quarter mile of the facility.

 And speaking of the future, we also invited Ian Kennedy to join us to discuss the upcoming elections for the Columbia Council. Ian launched the Let’s Make Columbia Awesome website to support those candidates who support visionary initiatives like the Inner Arbor Plan.

Ian also has a Merriweather history. He and his friend Justin Carlson launched the Save Merriweather effort back in 2003 when the future of Merriweather was in doubt.

Ian made a pitch for Regina Clay in Wilde Lake, Mike Cornell in River Hill, Julia McCready in Oakland Mills and Ed Coleman in Long Reach, pointing out that these people are more interested in “pushing Columbia forward rather than holding it back.”

In other words, these are the candidates that can make Columbia awesome. “They’re all awesome,” he suggested.

You can listen to the 87th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Lt. Governor Watson?

Maryland Juice, a widely read Maryland political blog, has suggested that Courtney Watson is on Anthony Browns short list for lieutenant governor in his 2014 gubernatorial bid. According to this post by David Moon, Courtney’s name is among eight that have been mentioned “by knowledgeable sources, and at least some of them appear to be going through some level of vetting.”

I should note that Ken Ulmans name is also among the eight mentioned but most political watchers widely dismiss the notion of Ken playing second fiddle to the guv. As Roger Caplan is fond of saying “I don’t see Ken holding a clipboard for anyone.”

Most HoCo loco politico watchers would also dismiss Courtney as a serious prospect for backup quarterback given her expected run for county exec in 2014. Even David seems to acknowledge this pointing out that it is “unclear whether she would be willing to abandon her campaign for an unplanned run for LG.”

Indeed. Still, if you're Courtney it still has to feel good to see your name on the list.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

More Food for Turf Valley

When I visited the new Turf Valley Town Square last weekend, I noticed two more restaurants were joining Facci and Petite Cellars in the new shopping center, a sports grill and Xitomate.

 It would be fun if one of these new watering holes dedicated a special drink to Marc Norman, the Turf Valley activist who fought hard to keep this shopping center from being built.

I’m thinking something with sour grapes would be fitting.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What’s in a Name?

There has been a significant realignment of Baltimore commercial real estate firms over the past two weeks, with all the action centered in Columbia. The sixty seven year old former powerhouse of the Baltimore market, Manekin, merged the lions share of its operations with the Baltimore office of Colliers International.  Lest there be any doubt about who was acquiring whom, Tim Hearn, CEO and Principal of Colliers will be moving his office to the Manekin building in Columbia Gateway, while the remaining Manekin businesses will occupy his old space at 7172 Columbia Gateway Drive. At least everybody involved gets to stay in the same neighborhood. Presumably, 8601 Robert Fulton Drive will soon be sporting a new name on the bricks. To the victor go the spoils.

That wasn't the only shift that occurred. After sixteen years my own firm, Ryan Commercial, morphed into Lee & Associates Chesapeake Region, along with a few brokers from the Columbia office of KLNB. The new firm is headed up by Allan Riorda (KLNB) and began operations with Matt Ryan (Ryan), Kate Jordan (KLNB), Tom Whelan (Ryan), Bill Harrison (Ryan), Marley Welsh (Cushman Wakefield) and yours truly. Like one big happy local commercial real estate family, the new Lee office is also in Columbia Gateway at 6990 Columbia Gateway Drive.

Unfortunately this means I have to move. Our current offices are on Dobbin Road in the Columbia Business Center. We've been there for about five years. I like where we are. I can be in Wegmans in ten minutes. Sigh. Columbia Gateway is a retail desert compared to Dobbin Road.

Actually, we are in the process of moving. The physical move happens Friday. Right now all of us are going through old files and loading up the recycling bins. As much as I dislike this process it can be very cathartic.

It's kind of like spring cleaning

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Fire Drill

When I stopped in the Old Mill Bakery and Café for coffee this morning they were debating whether to call 911. From their parking lot you could see the black smoke rising from the hill above Ellicott City.

“It’s just a fire department exercise,” I informed them.

“It would have been nice if someone had told us,” one of the clerks replied.

Actually I thought Howard County had done a pretty decent job getting the word out, at least in my neighborhood. Even before I drove past the action on Weavers Court I knew what was going on. Earlier in the week I received alerts from both my community email list and from Notify Me Howard.

“That figures,” she said, “we’re in Baltimore County and they don’t tell us anything.”

Such is life in a bordertown.

Later in the day I drove past the controlled burn again but this time the fires were out and the trainees were busy rolling up hoses and packing up their gear.

Andrew Metcalf with Patch reported from the scene.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Russian Bike with German Bones

The fun vehicles came out of their winter hibernation today as spring made its belated debut. I had been wondering if I’d see something to put in The Garage, when this unusual motorcycle and sidecar appeared in our office parking lot. Fortunately, I was also able to meet and speak with the owner.
Jim Macdonald, who lives in Frederick, owns this 2012 Ural and drove it to Columbia today.  The Irbit Motor Works builds the Ural in Russia and is one of the only manufacturers of motorcycles with sidecars in the world. According to this story by Andrew E. Kramer in The New York Times, the retro looking bike is “a heavy, 40-horsepower motorcycle whose two cylinders jut sideways from the frame. It is modeled after a late-1930s BMW sidecar bike called the R71, which Nazi Germany provided to the Soviet Union after the countries signed a nonaggression pact in 1939. When the Nazis broke this pact and invaded, the Russians used the bike to fight them.”
It’s also proven to be quite popular with older cyclists.

“Irbit found salvation in an unlikely niche market: older American riders seeking utility, not thrills or spills. Suddenly the sidecar, a seemingly anachronistic product evoking a World War II newsreel, had a new life among the late middle-aged.”

Jim admitted that his Ural is a fair weather toy. That’s why it was out being played with today.

Secret Garden

We've driven by it numerous times but never stopped. That in and of itself is not so unusual, it’s an old graveyard after all and neither of us knows anyone interred there. I suppose it was a combination of curiosity, a warm Saturday, and the profusion of daffodils that spurred Mama Wordbones to suggest we take a closer look at Whipps Garden Cemetery on St. Johns Lane in Ellicott City.

I’m glad we did. True to its name, Whipps is as much a garden as it is a 180 year old cemetery. Carefully overseen by the Friends of The Whipps Cemetery and Memorial Gardens and community volunteers, the one acre “heritage-garden park” is both historic and botanic. It features a native plants “typical of those grown in Maryland gardens of the 1800’s.”

You can find more pictures of Whipps Garden Cemetery here.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Black Mulch

Home Depot had a big sale on mulch this weekend and we took advantage of the opportunity to load up. We weren't the only ones. In the Ellicott City store on Saturday the staff in the garden center struggled to keep up with the demand, particularly for the black stuff.

I watched a steady stream of customers empty out a pallet load of the stuff within fifteen minutes. During that time the brown and red mulch bags were hardly touched.

Brown mulch is out. In HoCo, black mulch is suburban yard chic. 

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Beer Madness

In yet another play on the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament  The Washington Post has been running its 7th annual Beer Madness, a blind tasting of 32 regional craft brews to determine a loco king of beers. A panel of nine has been “sipping, spitting and scribbling their way through 32 brews from the Chesapeake region.”

This is the first year the competition has focused solely on Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

“In previous years we've gone mass-market, global (in honor of the Olympics) and all-American. In this, the seventh annual Beer Madness, we decided to celebrate the local renaissance and showcase the best this region has to offer. All 32 entries come from breweries in the Chesapeake Bay area. We included some local brewpubs whose distribution doesn't stretch outside their front door, and a few small newcomers, such as Wild Wolf Brewing in Nellysford, Va., and Union Craft Brewing in Baltimore, that are just poking their noses into Washington and suburbs. But you can find all of these beers, on tap or in bottles or cans, within the confines of the Beltway.”

We are truly experiencing a beer renaissance in this country. In 1980 there were fewer than ninety breweries in the US. Today there are over 2,400, the highest number ever.

It’s beginning to get a little overwhelming. Earlier this week, To2C reader and occasional contributor Andy Liberman sent me a note about a new wine bar coming to Turf Valley. He wrote that it was purportedly backed by the folks at Perfect Pour in the Gateway Exchange shopping center. It had been some time since I was last in Perfect Pour so I decided to drop in and see what I could find out. While I didn't discover anything new about the Turf Valley venture, I was bowled over by the craft beer selection in the store. They have one of the most extensive offerings of craft beer in HoCo. There’s a pretty good chance that you will find most, if not all the 32 beers in the WAPO Beer Madness tournament in the store.
Andy later informed me that the name of the Turf Valley place is Petite Cellars. Yesterday I dropped by the new shopping center and saw that work was well underway. He also thinks the new place will be similar to Liquid Assets in Ocean City.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Not Yet

“How were the cherry blossoms?”

“We didn't go to the Tidal Basin.”

“You were on the Mall weren't you?”

“Yeah, but I don’t recall seeing any cherry blossoms.”

“Then they weren't blooming.”

Mama Wordbones was right as usual, particularly when it comes to the ways of nature. I went back and checked my camera. I had taken the typical tourist pictures. Standing in the middle of America’s front lawn I took one shot towards the capital and one towards the monument. Bing. Bang. Boom.
If you look closely you can see the beginnings of color. I wasn't looking closely. It was cold.

Peanut and I took a day trip to the National Museum of American History , my choice not hers. Someone is not doing well in US History and I was hoping for some sort of inspiration. I don’t think it took. Hard to tell though, teenagers are notoriously hard to read.

On the ride home I heard on the radio that peak bud time has now moved back to this Saturday, two days above the average.

We're planning on going back on Sunday, with the bikes. It would be nice if we didn't have to wear ski hats and gloves.