The Rouse Co., initiating an aggressive program to lure top discount retailers to parcels on the eastern side of Columbia, has invited Wal-Mart to use one of the sites to introduce its first Baltimore area store.
Rouse officials said that consumer surveys and inquiries from certain retailers indicate there is an interest in having major discount stores -- including off-price department stores, wholesale club warehouses, home improvement centers and discount apparel stores -- in Columbia, one of the most affluent markets in the Baltimore area.
Rouse Co. efforts have apparently already reaped rewards. At one site -- the Rouse-owned Dobbin Center near Interstate 95 at Little Patuxent Parkway and Dobbin Road -- a major discounter has opened and another is on the way.
F&M Distributors, offering discounts in health and beauty aids, opened its store Nov. 25 at Dobbin. Ross Dress for Less, a discount apparel store, is scheduled to open March 15.
The presence of the two retailers, along with K mart and Hechinger stores already at Dobbin Center, help establish the area as an off-price center for Columbia, which has traditionally been dominated by the relatively upscale Columbia Mall.
"Columbians are no different than anyone else," said Ed Ely, vice president of land sales for Rouse. "They are looking for the best value for their money."
Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, is currently looking at a parcel off of U.S. 29 in Ellicott City as a possible site for a Baltimore area store. Howard County officials, however, have been reluctant to approve the necessary zoning changes because of community resistance.
Rouse officials, however, said that the 421-acre site of the former General Electric Appliance Park, which was recently rezoned for a retail commercial center, could provide Wal-Mart with an alternative site. The appliance park has a prime location off Snowden River Parkway near Interstate 95. The site is approximately a mile from Dobbin Center.
Ely said he has been in discussions with Wal-Mart brokers but they are currently more interested in pursuing the Ellicott City site.
"I would hope they would come talk after they have finished with the Ellicott City rezoning process, depending on how that works out," he said.
Regardless, Ely said, the Rouse Co. wants the site to include at least two major "category killers," perhaps a wholesale club warehouse and home improvement center.
The area that includes Dobbin Center and the appliance park is a "terrific retail market" with a trade area that encompasses close to 300,000 people living in Columbia, Jessup, Laurel and Ellicott City, Ely said.
At Dobbin Center, the Rouse Co. constructed a 37,000-square-foot building for F&M Distributors and is currently building a 26,000-square-foot building for Ross.
Rouse officials would not discuss the cost of the project.
Ely said a Rouse consumer survey showed that many Columbia residents were going outside the city to shop at discount retailers.
"We want to satisfy the retail needs of the Columbia Marketplace," Ely said. "Otherwise, the Columbia marketplace will go outside Columbia to satisfy their needs."