A $10 million renovation project is about to begin at one of Columbia's village shopping centers, while local officials are stepping up their efforts to fill the vacant supermarket space in another.
Giant Food Inc. is expanding its 39,000-square-foot store in Owen Brown to 60,000 square feet - a project that has existed in various forms for more than two years.
Company officials will break ground Saturday and construction will begin in earnest early next month.
"We are really excited that this day has finally arrived," said Columbia Councilwoman Pearl Atkinson Stewart of Owen Brown. "This is really something that we were waiting quite a while for."
Prospects for the Oakland Mills village center look dim by comparison.
Since Metro Food Market left the center in April, village officials have been contacting potential tenants directly without success. Four months later, they have reached the conclusion that finding a tenant will take professional contacts and expertise that they lack.
"We need to have people with more knowledge and experience than we have to work together on a viable plan for the whole center," Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills said yesterday.
In a meeting earlier this month, Oakland Mills officials asked Howard County Executive James N. Robey for help.
"The county executive has promised within the next few weeks to call a meeting with all the players," Russell said.
Among those she expects to participate are county economic development and planning officials, and representatives of the Rouse Co., the Columbia Association, and the business association for remaining tenants at the center.
The Rouse Co. owns the village center, but Metro holds a 20-year lease on the 43,000-square-foot space. When Metro closed, Rouse officials said it was primarily up to the supermarket chain to find a new tenant because the lease remained in effect.
Village officials met with Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of Rouse, earlier this summer and asked the company to take a more active role, Russell said.
"They have more clout than the Metro would have," Russell said. "He agreed the Rouse Co. would become more involved."
But Wayne Christmann, vice president and general manager of Columbia Management Inc., a Rouse affiliate, said yesterday that Rouse's role has not really changed.
Rouse officials are passing along any leads to Metro but, he said, they've been doing that all along.
"It's really in their hands to do it," Christmann said of Metro.
In Owen Brown, the expansion of Giant is expected to take eight or nine months. The company hopes to keep the store open throughout the project, but it might have to close for a short period shortly before the expanded store opens, said David S. Patalita, director of development for Giant Food Services Realty.
That project has been delayed and redesigned several times since plans were unveiled to Owen Brown officials in May 1999.
Residents have expressed concern that the final plan will make it harder to reach shops and restaurants behind the market because the food store will be expanded across what is now a walkway to the rear of the shopping center.
Residents had asked Giant to add a back door to the store to allow easier access to the rear tenants. But Giant officials said the company, concerned about shoplifting, has stopped putting back doors in its stores.
Giant agreed to install windows along the back wall so shoppers will be able to see the stores in back.
"It was a long process of identifying the appropriate concept," Patalita said.