Three Wilde Lake High School seniors are attempting to resurrect the student-run Wilde Times Cafe that closed last summer after it lost its lease.
The students have a start on funding and a name - Duct Tape - for the replacement to the cafe, which opened in Wilde Lake Village Center in 1999. But they lack one crucial component: a space.
Jamie Daniller, a senior at Wilde Lake, said she, Christina Baker and Mary Reeves have been searching for a vacant space but have not been successful. Nearby businesses aren't welcoming the teen traffic that the center would attract, Daniller said.
"We're not really sure what we're going to do," she said. "It's kind of hard to find a place we can afford and is willing to have teen-agers going in and out."
Daniller envisions the new cafe as a community center run by teens, "where teen-agers can go anytime ... and not feel threatened and not feel that people are threatened by them."
Students throughout the county could get help with schoolwork, showcase their artistic talents and have a comfortable place to be themselves, Daniller said. The center would also likely offer some packaged food in the beginning, and later, coffee and other food items, she said.
"I just look around and see so many different kinds of people in high school, so many different things they deal with all the time, and the only place they're really welcome is school," said Daniller, 18. "But there's no place [outside of school] that teen-agers can call their own and feel comfortable that they're always welcome."
The new center would be called Duct Tape because it's "the fabric that holds us together," said Rena Bezilla, a Wilde Lake High School teacher who would serve as adviser.
The center would operate after school and into the early evening. Any nighttime events would be "very low-key," Bezilla said.
The students have obtained a $5,000 grant from the Horizon Youth Action Council and are looking for other funding. The center will need about $20,000 to get started, Bezilla said.
Daniller said she, Baker and Reeves will continue to work on the center during the summer after they graduate and are looking for other students to take over the project. They have time to find more money and a location. Bezilla said the aim is to open the center by the 2004-2005 school year.
The Wilde Times Cafe - which Howard County highlighted in its successful 2001 entry for the All-America City Award competition - closed at the end of the 2001-2002 school year in Wilde Lake Village Center. The cafe had reached the end of its deal with Kimco Realty Corp. of New Hyde Park, N.Y., which bought the village center last year, Bezilla said.
A Japanese restaurant, Tokyo Cafe, opened in the cafe's space last month.
Kimco "got a chance for a restaurant to come in. ... They had the opportunity, and it was part of the deal," Bezilla said. "Our time with them was done."
The cafe's space and utilities had been donated by Columbia Management Inc., a Rouse Co. affiliate, beginning in late 1999. Kimco continued the deal last year, requiring the cafe to pay only utilities, Bezilla said.
Through the years, the cafe has sometimes had an uncertain future.
In summer 2001, CMI did not renew the cafe's lease after the company apparently became concerned that crowds were disturbing shoppers and tenants. In March 2001, police were called to the cafe after a crowd grew too large and rowdy during a nighttime event.
CMI later agreed to a new lease after establishing rules for the center, and the cafe reopened in February last year.
Wilde Lake Village Center is completely leased, but other Columbia centers run by Kimco have vacancies.
However, Kimco property manager Kevin Allen wrote in an e-mail interview: "As it relates to other village centers in Columbia, we are very lucky in that we have current interest in all vacant space or the center is 100% leased."
The new teen center ideally would be in Wilde Lake Village Center because of its central location, Bezilla said. But she said she would be reluctant to ask Kimco for space - if any were available - because the cafe had "tied up" a spot at the village center for a few years.
Bezilla said the cafe is important to students because the county has no place that is dedicated purely to teens. Other centers cater to 11- to 18-year-olds, and "that is ludicrous," Bezilla said.
"There's a vast difference between a 12-year-old and a 17-year-old," Bezilla said. "The behavior of middle school students is very irritating to high school students. [High school students] want their own space."