The Mall in Columbia Turns the Big 4-0 Tuesday
How will the mall fit into Columbia’s downtown redevelopment plans?
Forty years ago today, Aug. 2, 1971, the Mall in Columbia opened its doors.
The 640,000-square-foot structure was developed by the same entity, The Rouse Company, which conceptualized Columbia, the planned community that came to be in 1967 and was the vision of developer James Rouse.
Today, the mall occupies 1.4 million square feet and has more than 200 stores, kiosks and restaurants.
General Growth Properties, which began managing the mall in 2004, estimates the mall sees 18 million shoppers each year.
By all definitions, the mall has thrived, when other Rouse Co. mall concepts, such as the Owings Mills Mall, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last month, have lost stores and prestige as shoppers and tenants have fled to other destinations.
The Columbia Mall was designed to be a “beautiful” environment particularly for female shoppers, and at its outset, was enclosed by glass skylights, decorated with tropical plants, birds, fountains, benches and giant steel circular staircases and escalators, according to materials from the Columbia Archives.
Rouse wrote in a 1966 letter housed at the archives, that for malls, “the better the environment … [the] more profitable.”
The mall has continued to put that philosophy in practice today, and recently undertook a “major update,” taking out palm trees, adding benches, new tile flooring, planters and other interior improvements, according to General Manager Katie Essing.
“This mall is very unique,” Essing recently told Patch. “It was built as the center of Columbia. It’s also the downtown for this area. … If you look at the success of this property, it has no potential of going away. I think it’s going to keep getting stronger.”
The debate continues as to how the mall will thrive amid potential changes in Columbia.
The town is in the midst of redeveloping its downtown, and questions are swirling around how the mall will fit into the new vision for Columbia’s core, which will include more residential units, office and retail space.
Columbia Association President Phil Nelson is among those who predict changes to the Mall in Columbia as Columbia redevelops.
“I think the sea of asphalt parking lots will gave way to mixed-use facilities,” he said in a recent interview. “The millennial generation wants high density—look at live-to-work areas. You live on the 20th floor, you eat dinner on the first floor. People are finally realizing it’s not a lot of fun to sit for an hour-and-a-half in traffic.”
John DeWolfe, senior vice president of development for the Howard Hughes Corp., recently told the Howard County Times that the mall is “really well run” and would stay "sort of the retail headquarters."
The Howard Hughes Corp. is among the entities that owns land downtown and will be making redevelopment proposals to Howard County officials, who must approve final plans.
There will also be various promotions throughout the mall Tuesday: a fashion show, a family-friendly birthday party, as well as a display highlighting key milestones in the mall’s 40 years.
For a schedule of mall events and promotions today, click here.