Headquarters alternatives to be considered by CA

Staff to study renting, buying and building


October 31, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

For 15 years, the Columbia Association's headquarters has been in an office building on Lake Kittamaqundi in Town Center. But the lease on the office space expires in 2007, meaning the homeowners association may have to find a new home.

Association staff members are scheduled to study the alternatives of continuing to rent at the current site or elsewhere, buying a building or constructing an office. The board of directors decided - in a straw vote - to put $45,000 in the 2005 budget to fund the report. The panel is scheduled to approve the final version of the 2005 budget in February.

The consensus among the board and staff is that the Columbia Association should continue to have a presence in Columbia's downtown.

"We just feel this is where it should be - [Town Center] is really accessible to everyone," association President Maggie J. Brown said. "We like to be as convenient as possible to our residents and anyone who does business with us."

Board Chairman Miles Coff- man said it is too early to determine the best alternative for the association, but he agreed it is key that the headquarters remain downtown.

"Being there is very important, being a part of the fabric of the community," he said.

The association rents the 20,500-square-foot space from the Rouse Co. for $556,000 annually. Constructing a 30,000- square-foot office building could cost from $5.2 million to $6 million, according to staff estimates.

Brown said the association has not found suitable office space in Town Center for sale. She said the association owns about an acre near Merriweather Post Pavilion that could be a possible site for a headquarters building. And she noted that while the space is near the 40-acre Symphony Woods, which the association manages, it is not in a wooded area. "We would not be in the woods tearing down any trees," she said.

Rouse has ended its lease debacle, after the company did not renew the 30-year lease on its headquarters, which is next to the Columbia Association's building on Lake Kittamaqundi. This month, the company announced it would buy the building for $11 million.

Some association board members have raised the idea of having the association's member services center in Town Center but moving the headquarters elsewhere in Columbia, possibly in the Gateway area, where the association owns a parcel.

The two departments of the association have been separated in the past, with the customer service center previously in The Mall in Columbia.

Board member Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills said a similar setup could work and that the location of the headquarters should be based on economics.

"I think we should have a central location for a service center, but [residents] have very little need to go to the offices," she said. "I think they could be located anywhere."

Board member Phil Marcus of Kings Contrivance said he is concerned about the debt the association likely would incur if it built another headquarters. But he said in principle he is not opposed to the idea.

"I would only be comfortable with debt provided that we segregated that debt on the budget," Marcus said. "So we could see separately the effect, rather than simply adding another $6 million or whatever it would end up costing, and say, `Oh, we have a tremendous debt and have to increase the levy rate, or not decrease it.' "

Russell speculated that the idea of building a headquarters has arisen partly because the Columbia Association has excess revenue, primarily from about $2.7 million in additional assessment funds stemming from rising home values in east Columbia. She said the board should consider the association's future home outside the current budget climate.

"I think that there would be a desire to go ahead with plans to build a building simply because we can," Russell said.

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