Shovel-wielding development and county officials braved wet weather and gray skies to break ground on the Downtown Metropolitan Columbia on Monday morning.
The groundbreaking represents the first mixed-use buildings to break ground in the Warfield area around the Mall in Columbia as part of the greater development of Downtown Columbia.
"What I really liked to do is build things," said John DeWolf, senior vice president for the Howard Hughes Corp., the development firm working on the project along with Kettler and Orchard Development. "Now we get to build things."
"I grew up in the planned community business," said Bob Kettler, President of Kettler. "Our role model is Jim Rouse... This is one of the best opportunities we can think of in the United States."
Developers plan to complete the estimated $100 million two-building apartment and retail space by 2014, according to DeWolf.
Developers provided a comprehensive look at the plans for the buildings, which are being built on land across from the food court and Sears' parking lots, during a community meeting in May.
The five-story South building, which borders two office buildings, would consist of an indoor parking lot in the middle with 750 parking spots and apartments lining the exterior.
The six-story North building, which borders Parcel C, an undeveloped section of land owned by Howard Hughes, would include a first-floor promenade that faces Sears and contains three or four retail establishments. Residential units would line Broken Land Parkway as well as the upper stories facing the Mall in Columbia. Additionally, a pool and courtyard would be placed in the middle of the North building.
The building will contain 380-residential units ranging in price from $1,500 to $2,800 and 14,000 square feet of retail space.
DeWolf said Howard Hughes hopes to finish construction on another project in Parcel C by 2015. He said the company would be submitting a Site Development Plan for the project by the summer or fall of 2013.
"We believe we can absorb a project a year," said DeWolf. He said after developing the Warfield area near the Mall and the former Rouse Company Headquarters for Whole Foods, Howard Hughes would turn its focus to the Crescent, the section of undeveloped land between Route 29 and Merriweather Post Pavilion.
DeWolf said he wasn't publicly ready to discuss any plans for Merriweather or the Crescent.
Howard County officials, who have worked for years developing the Downtown Columbia plan, were excited to see the project officially begin as they gathered at the groundbreaking.
"We're about to see what we looked at in lots of pretty pictures," said County Executive Ken Ulman.
"I think it's a major step forward for Columbia," said Sherman Howell, the vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County. "It's going to bring additional prosperity to Columbia."
Mary Kay Sigaty, the County Council representative for Town Center, said she was walking with a friend around the construction site over the weekend, and started to imagine what Downtown Columbia would look like.
"On my morning walks I hope to see something coming out of the ground very soon," said Sigaty.
The groundbreaking follows a recent groundbreaking for an expansion at the Mall in Columbia, renovations at Clyde's on the waterfront, and will precede a groundbreaking at the former Rouse Company Headquarters in March for Whole Foods construction.
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