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Poll: What's the Best Use of the Howard Hughes Building?

Whole Foods is reportedly not interested in the iconic Columbia building.

The future of the Howard Hughes building is once again unclear. The iconic former headquarters of the Rouse Company, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, was rumored to be a future home of a Whole Foods supermarket.

But last week, an unidentified Howard Hughes official said negotiations between the company and Whole Foods ended without a deal, according to an article in Explore Howard. The article noted just 13 employees currently use the three-level building, which is 150,00-square-feet and can hold up to 650 people.

So it begs the question, how could the building be used?

With Wegmans opening this summer, is a grocery store still a reality? Would standard offices be too ho-hum for the unique structure?

Duane St. Clair at HoCo Connect asked similar questions of readers in a recent blog post. St. Clair wondered if it would be a good fit for the Columbia Association, whose lease expires at the end of August 2015. The association currently pays about $520,000 a year for the space it leases at 10221 Wincopin Circle, according to a February Explore Howard article.

Kelly Cooper, a spokesperson for the CA, said in an email they have taked with Howard Hughes Corp. about the building, "but nothing has advanced past the talking stage." She said they are looking at several buildings in hopes of finding more floor space at a reasonable cost.

"We hope to come to some conclusions during this or next year," said Cooper.

Other than the CA, St. Clair also threw out some other ideas for the space, such as a children’s museum, science center or a new version of the Columbia Visitor’s Center. 

John DeWolf, a senior vice president for Howard Hughes, told Explore Howard the building needs about $20 million in base building improvements, but that the structure has potential and could accommodate a variety of uses.

What do you think would be the best use for the Howard Hughes building?

MG42 April 05, 2012 at 10:47 PM
If it needs $20 million in "base building improvements" it should probably be torn down. A brand new building could be built for less than that.
Bob B. April 06, 2012 at 02:16 AM
A single-tenant corporate headquarters building.
Peter Monaghan April 06, 2012 at 12:31 PM
I have to agree with Ohai on this one. But that aside, what about a 'Convention Center'-type facility? Something that could host anything from large weddings, proms, corporate parties... to small-scale business/industry conventions and expos.
Karen April 06, 2012 at 01:24 PM
How about a Chelsea market type place?? But would people shop at small bread, bakery, butcher outlets?
b.santos April 06, 2012 at 01:42 PM
I usually refrain from commenting on these type of questions because in the end, the building discussed is private property and it is really up to the owner to make decisions on how to best utilize their property. It is important to remember that for most of its life, the former Rouse building was owned by a company in New York. The Rouse Company (when it existed) never owned it. That being said, given its prominent location and signature stature, I believe some guidance is warranted. I believe the building should be utilized in a manner such that it is occupied at capacity during normal business hours and should also have the ability to activate the lakefront during the evenings and weekends. This speaks to at least some of the space converted to restaurant or performance (or both) space. WRT to the $20M repairs needed, its pretty clear HHC will either need to find a client that so loves the building that they will foot the repair bill, or a private/public consortium will have to be established to restore the building. Doing a quick calc, $20M divided among 100K residents comes to $200/person. Raising private and preservation funds could reduce that cost to a manageable level.
BOH April 17, 2012 at 04:45 PM
I really wish Trader Joe's were located there, instead of at Gateway Overlook. The problem with this location is that it's not walkable to any residences, except for the adjacent apartment community and the relatively low-income housing at White Acre and Steven's Forest across the footbridge people are afraid to use. It's also difficult to access without plodding through the infinite stoplights along Little Patuxent. It's also in an area mired by countless plodding stoplights and lots of mall and concert traffic, and when people are choosing where to shop, they'll often consolidate trips by just turning into the mall. Those things might make a location like this a hard sell to a higher-end retailer or food store, as was the case with Whole Foods. I tend to think this would actually be a great place to cultivate a sort of staging ground for concert and lakefront crowds to frequent before and after events. Columbia isn't known for its nightlife, but even with Clyde's and Sushi Sono, the area is shockingly slow for a lakefront. I'm not sure about how suitable the interior of the building would be to these ideas, but some combination of casual lakefront eateries and bars that cater to the Merriweather and Lakefront crowd would seem sensible. Going in another direction, a boutique hotel and wine bar/restaurant would make nice use of the lakefront setting. Really the point is that the lakefront setting isn't emphasized enough with the current offerings, and that needs to change.
Rand June 28, 2012 at 01:09 PM
This Building represents the headquarters of the Rouse Company organization who birthed Columbia and as a result created the " Howard County" we know today. It would be a shame to see it torn down. I know the Rouse Company found itself in need of cash on many occasions during their development of many projects. They sold off their assets in order to survive. Columbia was one that threatened their existence on more than one occasion.
Dave Wind July 01, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Thought should be given to modify the interiors of the building into a combination Performing Arts, Fine Arts and multiple restaurant center. It's important to matain the exterior for its importance. The Performing Arts Center part could house a major theater which could handle music, plays and other events. A major theater for local, regional and possible traveling national companies. Let the operators of Merrieweather use it as a Winter venue. Fine Arts could consolidate Howard County's celebrated artists and provides a section for up and coming talented artists. Restaurants - always room for three, one upscale four seasons type, one mid-range family and one quick service. All restaurants could take adventage of oudoor seating. Well that's my thoughts.

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