CA ponders 3 options: lease, build or purchase

Association aiming to resolve its headquarters question

`Solidified vision ... greater opportunities'

September 09, 2005|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Association is aiming to resolve the fate of its headquarters after next month's intensive design gathering that will result in a master development plan for Columbia's downtown.

The association has been working out of its rented downtown lakefront building for 13 years, and the lease on the office space -- which it rents from General Growth Properties for $556,000 a year -- expires in August 2007.

The association has been compiling a list of alternatives, ranging from continuing to rent, to buying a building or constructing a building on land it owns. The association board has also directed its staff to negotiate with General Growth to extend the lease to give the association more time to make a decision, board Chairman Joshua Feldmark said.

A study by KLNB, which was commissioned by the Columbia Association, examined the financial impact of the association leasing or constructing a building. KLNB concluded that it makes more fiscal sense to build on land owned by the association.

The association board has asked a civil engineer to test soil at two sites in Symphony Woods -- an area near Merriweather Post Pavilion -- to determine whether it would be suitable as a building site.

Feldmark said the board is not trying to decide between the two sites -- on Little Patuxent Parkway near the roadway entrance to Merriweather, and near the pavilion's administrative offices -- and is only investigating whether constructing a building on either piece of land would be feasible.

A concept plan for a headquarters in Symphony Woods includes a $3.9 million, two-story, 30,000-square-foot building with 130 parking spaces.

The board will bring the results of the soil tests to the Oct. 15-22 county charrette at which residents will be invited to share ideas about how Columbia's downtown should be transformed into a bustling urban environment.

The series of meetings, led by the Baltimore firm Design Collective Inc., will focus on the 570 acres that make up Town Center's core and will address issues such as mixed uses, walkability, the balance between pedestrians and cars, diverse and affordable housing and the environment.

The Symphony Woods sites are near the largest chunk of developable land in Town Center, the 51.7 acres adjacent to Merriweather owned by General Growth Properties.

General Growth has created a draft master plan for downtown Columbia, and the crux of that plan is a mix of businesses, homes, parking and open space on the property near Symphony Woods, which is now partially used for parking by Merriweather patrons. The plan calls for 1,852 additional residential units in Town Center's core, increasing the area's population from 2,699 to 6,600.

The public is invited to participate in the county's charrette, and at its conclusion consultants will present a draft master development plan for the future physical design of downtown Columbia. The County Council will have the final say on the plan.

Feldmark said the Columbia Association board has not ruled out any options regarding its headquarters, though he said there is a consensus that the headquarters remain in Town Center.

"CA needs to be represented in the heart of Columbia, and for us to be in some off-satellite [location] ... is not conducive to encouraging folks to participate in CA affairs," he said. "Nobody puts their town hall in the far reaches of the town."

The board will discuss options for the headquarters after the charrette, and it is aiming to be honing in on a decision by the end of the year, Feldmark said.

"We're hoping that the charrette will give us some more solidified vision and some greater opportunities," he said.

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