Town's focus seen as business More commercial enterprises sought, Rouse official says

January 16, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

As the residential development of Columbia comes to an end, the focus of the planned community of 85,000 residents is moving to its commercial and retail side -- from tot lots and bike paths to retail power centers and high-tech office parks.

That was the picture Alton J. Scavo, a senior vice president of the Rouse Co., painted yesterday for about 40 of Columbia's business executives and community leaders at the annual "State of Columbia" address, sponsored by the Columbia Business Exchange.

"Howard County has gotten over some huge hurdles, and we're rebounding," Scavo said. "Columbia is a part of it."

With the average Columbian earning $72,000 and the average house costing $336,000, Scavo said Columbia is a market that will support more retail development.

"We're marketing [Columbia] today, and houses are going for pretty pricey amounts," he said. "It's a long cry from 30 years ago."

In the last year along Route 175 in east Columbia, such "big-box" shopping anchors as Dick's Clothing & Sporting Goods, Target and Toys 'R' Us have opened, drawing shoppers away from the smaller village centers originally designed by Columbia's founder James Rouse to foster a sense of community.

Scavo predicted that such large, strip centers as 250,000-square-foot Columbia Crossing -- one of the largest shopping complexes in the county -- will continue to grow.

In the next year, Scavo said, some of the stores and restaurants that will come to the Columbia Crossing retail center include CompUSA, Chicken Out and Commercial and Farmers Bank, all of which will start construction this spring.

Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts will relocate from The Mall in Columbia to a 45,000-square-foot store in the center.

Center "is very hot'

"[Columbia Crossing] is very hot right now," Scavo said.

Construction of the new stores should take about six to eight months.

Scavo also said jobs are growing, reporting that 5,000 positions were created last year. Howard County has 100,000 residents working within its borders, he said.

The growth of the big-box retail power centers on the outskirts of Columbia draws a mixed reaction from those doing business and living in the county.

"We hear these 'State of Columbia' addresses every year, and it's always the same thing: We're growing -- and it's because of location, location, location," said Anne Cooke, a real estate agent with O'Conor Piper & Flynn Realtors.

Roy Felipe, with McCabe Insurance Associates in Columbia, added: "I've been to several of these, and you always hear about the level of growth, but you haven't always heard of the stores and restaurants taking off. Things are just exploding."

Scavo acknowledged that the popularity of the new shopping centers has diverted business from the village centers.

"We had a philosophy of village centers being the anchor of a community, but the problem was that [the original] 17,000-square-foot [grocery] stores are a small cry from the 65,000-square-foot stores they are competing with," Scavo said. "The challenge now is to give residents the same services in their villages."

Supermarket expansion

Scavo said the Rouse Co. is investing millions in major renovations at three village centers that include expanded grocery stores.

An expanded Safeway will open in late February in the Harper's Choice Village Center.

In Long Reach village, the Safeway is doubling its size to more than 50,000-square-feet.

A Metro Food store will open this fall in Oakland Mills village.

Meanwhile, office space in Columbia continues to expand, with dozens of projects planned for the coming year.

Scavo said the hot spot of growth for office space is the Gateway Commerce Center, near Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway.

The office projects include:

The Manekin Corp., which plans to build an 80,000-square-foot project in the Gateway Commerce Center. AlliedSignal also plans to build a 170,000-square-foot building in the park.

In February, Rouse will start building a 100,000-square-foot office building near the Parkside Building on Little Patuxent Parkway in Town Center.

Trammel Crow is building a 117,000-square-foot building at Broken Land Parkway and Route 32 in east Columbia.

"People complain about growth, but that's what comes with good times," Scavo said. "It's with good [economic] times [that] there's the opportunity to say there's too much growth."

Pub Date: 1/16/98

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