Construction has begun on a commercial development that will bring Columbia a new concept in retail -- warehouse-style, bulk-rate shopping.
Building foundations, parking lots and roads are being prepared for Hechinger Home Project Center and BJ's Wholesale Club, which will anchor the Snowden Square center, a Rouse Co. project. The high-volume retail stores off Snowden River Parkway east of Oakland Mills Road could be open by May, said Jerry Brock, Rouse senior development director.
A third anchor store, Tennessee-based Service Merchandise Inc., a general merchandise and catalog jewelry seller, has received a building permit and is expected to open by fall.
Those three anchors will occupy about 275,000 square feet of space -- almost two-thirds the size of The Mall in Columbia's three anchors -- with Hechinger and BJ's each planned at more than 100,000 square feet. The mall's anchors -- Sears, Hecht's and Woodward & Lothrop -- occupy a total of 455,000 square feet.
The three Snowden Square anchor stores purchased about 26 acres of the 40-acre site for about $9.4 million. The estimated construction cost of the three buildings will total about $6 million. Those three buildings will generate more than $100,000 in excise taxes for the county to use for road improvements.
The site was formerly part of a General Electric Corp. industrial park. GE, which opened the park in 1970, never fulfilled its plans for the manufacturing center and gradually shifted its operations away.
In retailers' lingo, Snowden Square would be a "power center" -- a shopping complex of large anchors rather than numerous smaller stores, Mr. Brock said. Snowden Square will add a fourth type of retail center to the shopping areas that Rouse has developed in Columbia.
The centralized mall and village shopping centers were focal points of Columbia's early development. More recently, "community centers" -- larger shopping centers outside the heart of residential areas such as Dobbin Center -- have been built to meet Columbia's growing demand. Snowden Square is expected to have a wider, regional draw.
"Each one has its own influence and attraction for shoppers," Mr. Brock said. Snowden Square "will be a nice complement to everything we have."
The center is intended to capture the interest of Columbia shoppers who leave the area for certain needs or bargains, Mr. Brock said.
The Rouse Co. is negotiating with several potential tenants -- including family-style restaurants and other retail stores -- to purchase land at four free-standing sites near the anchors. The company is searching for either one or two other large retailers to occupy about 40,000 square feet that will be available between BJ's and Service Merchandise, Mr. Brock said. Deals could be completed in March, he said.
"With BJ's and Hechinger under construction, a lot more people are showing interest," Mr. Brock said.
Hechinger is moving from a smaller store at Dobbin Center and will stock a larger supply and array of products at the new site.
BJ's is similar to Pace Membership Warehouse and the Price Club, which have stores in the Baltimore area. The Massachusetts-based discount warehouse, which sells a wide variety of goods from fresh meat to tires, has two stores in the Baltimore area and plans to open one in Owings Mills in addition to Columbia. Customers must pay a $25 annual fee to become BJ's members in order to shop there.
The company expects to hire about 160 full- and part-time employees, including 11 management positions, in the spring for the Columbia store, said Susan Grieb, BJ's public relations manager.