Center may add 2 stores

Documents show plans for Lowe's, Costco at Gateway Overlook

April 14, 2006|BY A SUN REPORTER

Costco Wholesale Corp., the world's largest membership retail company, will expand to a sprawling residential-commercial development on the edge of Columbia, county documents show.

Other records indicate that Lowe's Companies Inc., the giant home-improvement firm, also is intended for the project.

Expanding to Gateway Overlook would put both companies within about 2.5 miles of major competitors, BJ's Wholesale Club and Home Depot.

The property is bounded by Route 175, Route 108, Lark Brown Road and Old Waterloo Road.

The developer, General Growth Properties Inc., has declined to discuss specific tenants for the project, but the two retailers have been rumored for months to be interested in opening stores in the development.

A spokeswoman for Lowe's would neither confirm nor deny the company's plan to expand to Columbia. "It's our policy not to discuss possible locations" until formal agreements have been signed, she said.

Costco's chief executive for the region that includes Maryland was on vacation and could not be reached for comment. Other company officials declined comment.

But General Growth has filed an extensive site development plan with the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning for a Costco store at Gateway Overlook.

In addition, correspondence to the county from Wells & Associates LLC, an engineering consulting firm that specializes in traffic, transportation and parking issues and was retained by General Growth, states that a Lowe's store is planned for the development.

The spokeswoman for Lowe's cautioned, however, that there is no guarantee that the unit will be constructed.

"It's not unusual for correspondence or [other] documents ... to be in files. That doesn't mean we build there," she said.

Gateway Overlook is a 123-acre, mixed-use development. It will include 66 attached residential homes, which will be constructed by Ryland Group Inc.

The largest component of the development, though, will be commercial.

Costco, according to county records, will have a one-story store than spans 11.6 acres, including parking. The structure will be off Lark Brown Road.

The chain is the result of a merger in 1993 of Costco and the Price Co., which originated the wholesale club concept with its Price Clubs.

Today, Costco has 456 units worldwide, of which about 335 are in the United States.

It dominates that sector. In its last fiscal year, Costco had net earnings of $1.09 billion on sales of $54.28 billion.

Its nearest competitor, Sam's Club, which is owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., has 200 more stores but about $1 billion less in sales.

The opening of a Costco unit at Gateway Overlook will pressure the Columbia store of BJ's Wholesale Club Inc.

BJ's is at Snowden Square, 2.5 miles from where Costco will open, as is Home Depot.

BJ's, though profitable, is a distant third player in the wholesale club industry, with about 160 stores, most of them in the Northeast. It reported net earnings of $128.5 million last year on sales of $7.8 billion.

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