Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia taken off the market

Announcement follows months of uncertainty

April 27, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

After months of conjecture about the fate of Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion, the owner of the 38-year-old concert venue took it off the market yesterday and will keep operating the open-air facility.

The surprise announcement by Howard County Executive James N. Robey is the latest move in a complex, two-year chess game over how the planned town's central core will be developed.

Plans to add hundreds of homes and/or offices and businesses to Columbia's Town Center -- using Merriweather's 51 acres of parking -- led the owner, General Growth Properties, to consider sale of the 9-acre pavilion property for conversion to a smaller, closed theater.

That prompted Robey a year ago to explore buying the pavilion after an outpouring of support for preserving it. But Robey said yesterday in a prepared statement that, based on the company's decision, the county no longer is interested in buying the pavilion.

"Conceptually, I believe the owner is on the same page as the community regarding the value of the open-air pavilion," the executive said. "There is an opportunity for Merriweather to become a central component in the downtown Columbia of tomorrow."

Dennis W. Miller, vice president and General Growth's general manager for Columbia, said, "Merriweather is no longer on the market." The Chicago company bought the Rouse Co. last year.

Miller said Merriweather can be part of downtown Columbia's future. General Growth will reveal its draft plan May 18, Miller said.

"It's in the best interest of further development that Merriweather continues to enhance and become extremely successful," he said.

The new downtown and Merriweather can help each other by boosting trade, patronage and providing parking, he said.

The company and county officials are developing plans to urbanize Columbia's downtown. General Growth has invited officials to private sessions outlining a more urban town center with stores lining Little Patuxent Parkway between The Mall in Columbia and the town's lakefront restaurants and hotel.

"All of this has to be connected around a master plan that takes into consideration the entire downtown," said County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat.

Advocates for saving the pavilion said they don't care who owns it, as long as it stays in operation. But some wondered how long they could count on that.

"I would like to see something -- a firm legal commitment on the part of General Growth saying it will indefinitely remain an open-air pavilion," said Ian Kennedy, a co-founder of the Save Merriweather group.

Without that, "there's always going to be that lingering doubt in my mind," he said.

Jean Parker, the longtime manager of the pavilion, said she was "thrilled" at the news.

Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of IMP Inc., which runs the pavilion, also was pleased.

"Bands love the place," he said. "People going there love the place. Now it would seem General Growth loves the place."

County Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat who represents the area, said, "If they are going to keep it and enhance it and operate it to its fullest potential, that's fabulous."

"I think they recognized how important the community felt Merriweather was," Ulman said. "One way to move things forward was to deal with Merriweather."

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