Village's center is to get face lift

Outdated complex in Owen Brown will be overhauled

Vacancies a problem

Project would include razing one building, constructing two more

April 22, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The company that owns Owen Brown Village Center is planning a major overhaul of the decades-old shopping plaza that includes demolishing one building and constructing at least two more.

Stephen Oseroff, vice president and operating manager for GFS Realty, said the renovation will mark a "major philosophy change" in the center's design -- something village merchants, residents and officials say is overdue.

"The reason that it's overdue is because the other village centers in Columbia have taken steps to renovate their village centers," said Steve Heintzelman, owner of Sonoma's restaurant, which is all-but-hidden at the back of the plaza. "And, in so doing, all the merchants have improved sales and visibility."

Owen Brown's village center, which, like all of Columbia's village centers, was built to be a focal point for the community, has been struggling with vacancies for years.

Parcel Plus, a packaging and shipping store, recently shut down, leaving an empty storefront, and Owen Brown Video is selling its stock at reduced prices before it closes its doors soon.

"I know there's a lot of concern among the residents because stores are closing," said Ruth Bohse, the village manager. "Particularly the seniors who live around there, they really depend on that center."

Many Owen Brown residents shop at the center's anchor tenant, the Giant grocery store. But, some days, the rest of the plaza -- which, in addition to the grocery, has 16 retail spaces -- looks like a ghost town.

Of the six spaces in one of the buildings at the back of the center, three are occupied.

That is the building GFS plans to demolish, Oseroff said. At least two buildings will be built.

Howard County and Rouse Co., which has architectural jurisdiction over the shopping center, are reviewing the real estate company's preliminary plans.

GFS officials are expected to present those plans to the public at the May 18 meeting of the Owen Brown Village Board at the community center on Cradlerock Way.

The idea is to make the architecturally outdated complex more "open" for shoppers and tenants, much like the village centers in Harper's Choice, Long Reach and Oakland Mills.

Rouse Co., which owns the village centers in Columbia except for the one in Owen Brown, spent millions of dollars renovating those complexes.

"Retailing is not something that survives in any given format more than about 10 years," said Oseroff.

He suggested that the closings of Parcel Post and the video store were due to a combination of the planned "changes and the way the market is going in their product line."

Oseroff said he didn't know of more imminent store closings, or what businesses -- and how many -- might replace the ones that have closed.

"Right now, we're holding back on the re-merchandising," he said. "We don't rush to make decisions because you can move merchandise in and out of a store, but it's harder to move bricks and mortar."

The renovations, for which GFS does not have a budget, aren't likely to be finished until next year.

Giant officials are determining whether to make renovations to the grocery store as well.

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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