Spear Center closing to public Rouse Co. to use room only for its functions

September 28, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Though its popularity as a site for wedding receptions and banquets remains unmatched in Columbia, the Spear Center will no longer be available to the public after 1998.

Rouse Co. officials say they are going to use the 500-seat space overlooking Lake Kittamaqundi in the Rouse building in the center of Columbia for corporate functions.

"The intent when we built the room in 1974 was to meet the need for a large room for big events," said Rouse Vice President Alton J. Scavo. "Now, other [facilities] have come into the marketplace and we need the space for our growth."

To dozens of brides and bridegrooms, banquet organizers and charities, losing access to the room hurts.

"I'm really sad to see it close," said Jackie Everett, president of Du Jour Catering in Columbia.

"There's just not many large, nice banquet facilities around. It will be a huge loss for the entire community," Everett said.

The room was often reserved six months to a year or more in advance and was typically booked every weekend, including Friday nights, according to local party planners.

Its fully equipped, modern kitchen made it popular with caterers.

"It's tough to get a big room in this metropolitan area, but it's even tougher to get [the] one at the Spear Center," said Susan Azoulay, a planner for Whitehouse Caterers at the Overhills Mansion in Catonsville.

'Five years in advance'

"If you want to have an event at the Spear Center, you better start planning it five years in advance to get the day you want," Azoulay said.

Spear Center officials refused to say whether any events will be canceled because of the decision to close it after 1998.

Located on the fourth floor of the Rouse headquarters building, the Spear Center originally was called the Kittamaqundi Room after the man-made lake in Columbia's Town Center that dominates the panoramic view from its floor-to-ceiling windows and brick-covered veranda.

It was renamed seven years ago after Michael D. Spear, a former Rouse president who died in 1990 with his wife and daughter in a plane accident.

Its sense of tradition, easy access from U.S. 29 and scenic overlook attracted hundreds of events over the years. To use it for an evening costs from $750 to $2,500.

Shawn Wright, 24, of Catonsville had her heart set on getting married at the Spear Center. Her fiance, Derek Dunworth, had his high school prom there and his two siblings had their wedding receptions there years ago.

'Romantic feel'

"When I saw that room, the way it overlooks the lake and the romantic feel of it, I knew I just had to have my wedding reception there," said Dunworth, who paid $1,800 to have 200 guests in the room. "It's just gorgeous."

She started in December booking her wedding day. But because the center was booked every Saturday from January until September, she changed her wedding day to two days ago.

For a decade, the Hospice of Howard County has held its annual "A Taste of Howard County" fund-raiser at the Spear Center, raising more than $30,000 a year for terminally ill patients.

Next month, the group will hold its last dinner at the Spear Center.

"It's right in the heart of Columbia and that makes it easier to attract people," said Holly Kowgios, an accounting manager at Hospice of Baltimore, which merged recently with Hospice of Howard County.

"I am worried that the next place we hold it won't be as centrally located, and that could affect the number of people," Kowgios said.

The closing should increase business for Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City -- which is opening a 1,000-seat ballroom in November -- and Columbia village centers that have large halls.

"I believe there will be an increase in bookings," said Anne Darrin, manager of Dorsey Search Village Center, which houses Linden Hall, a 5,000-square-foot room.

"I know [the Spear Center] was highly utilized, and now businesses and the average resident who wants to have 6 6TC wedding reception or a party will have to find another space.

"We'll be one of them, I'm sure."

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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