Jan. 12, 2013
It was May of 2005 when about 500 residents gathered with representatives of General Growth Properties to begin creating a plan to develop Downtown Columbia.
On Tuesday, officials from GGP and Howard County swung golden sledgehammers through a wall at the Mall in Columbia, the loud thunks officially ringing in the beginning of the construction process.
"This starts a series of groundbreaking and activity after years of discussion," said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.
The Mall is planning to construct a new expansion in the current location of L.L. Bean. When finished, there will be three new buildings and a new walkway that connects the mall with the Columbia lakefront.
"Today marks the beginning of the next phase of the Mall in Columbia," said Jim Whitcome, vice president of development for General Growth Properties.
Construction will begin in the next few weeks, according to Katie Essing, the mall's general manager.
This May, L.L. Bean will close, and demolition on that building will begin, said Essing. After that, major construction of the buildings will begin, which are expected to be finished by the fall of this year, according to Whitcome.
Essing said most retail stores and restaurants will be open by mid-2014. GGP officials would not comment on what stores or restaurants will be moving into the new space, citing negotiations. Essing said store announcements will be made in the next few months as businesses sign leases.
Many residents have expressed concern about the lack of parking at the mall, and in community meetings multiple residents asked developers for additional parking to be added during the mall's redevelopment.
However, Essing said parking at the mall is more than adequate earlier this month.
"Even with the additional retail space, the number of parking spaces available now at The Mall in Columbia far exceed what Howard County requires," said Essing, in an email. "Also, we foresee our parking decks being better utilized since it will be more efficient for shoppers to park there, walk through the mall and out the reopened mall entrance to access the new retailers on the Plaza rather than the majority of surface spaces.”
The next big events scheduled for Downtown are a groundbreaking for the Metroplitan Downtown Columbia in the Warfield area next month; Clyde's redevelopment in February; construction beginning in earnest at the former Rouse Company headquarters building during the spring to make way for Whole Foods; a new Columbia Association gym; and development of the Wilde Lake Village Center later this year.
"To see the realization of the plan, it's really exciting," said Howard County Council member Calvin Ball.
Mary Kay Sigaty, the County Council representative for Town Center, said the beginning of development was exciting.
"It's my neighborhood and I can hardly wait," said Sigaty.