GGP selects Hamm for post

He takes over Godine's role as Columbia's general manager

December 12, 2007|By June Arney | June Arney,Sun reporter

An executive with nearly 20 years of experience in planning and development has replaced a veteran Rouse Co. vice president in heading up downtown development in Columbia, General Growth Properties Inc. announced this week.

Gregory F. Hamm, 45, has become regional vice president and general manager of Columbia, taking over for Douglas M. Godine, who has served as first vice president, development, with responsibility for Columbia, since March of last year.

"I look forward to learning Columbia," said Hamm, who has been a consultant for General Growth and has had an office in Columbia for more than a year. "I do want to follow in the tradition of Jim Rouse and Columbia and make sure that we're on the cutting edge of intelligent and visionary planning."

Hamm, who has held leadership roles in Reston Town Center in Reston, Va., Dulles Station in Herndon, Va., and other large, mixed-use projects in the region, said he brings knowledge of community-building to his new job.

"My experience has been in communities that have characteristics that are similar to Columbia," he said. "It was a kind of natural time to pass the baton. My task is to take it from the conceptual stage and engage the community very openly to get a plan prepared to take to the county."

Recently, Hamm has worked as a consultant for GGP on redevelopment of Landmark Mall in Alexandria, Va. In his new position, Hamm also assumes chief responsibility for the Landmark redevelopment project.

"Greg Hamm will be an effective leader for our company's efforts to make Columbia's Town Center a vibrant and even more desirable place to live, work and be entertained," John Bucksbaum, chairman and chief executive officer of General Growth, said in a statement. "He has invaluable experience with planning and development and a talent for taking the dreams and aspirations of a community and turning them into reality."

Some civic leaders are optimistic that the changes in management will bring good things for Columbia.

"I think a change in leadership behavior was needed; whether a change in leader was needed I don't know," said Alan Klein, a spokesman for the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown. "We are focused on the idea that whoever comes in to replace [Godine] truly takes on the mantle of general manager of Columbia in every way."

Klein said his organization sometimes felt that Godine's role was more that of an executive for General Growth than a general manager for Columbia.

Godine, who said he is resigning to explore other business interests and opportunities, oversaw Rouse's leasing, marketing and land sales in Columbia from 1961 to 1978 before leaving to start his own development company, which built shopping centers, hotels and offices.

In an interview yesterday, Godine declined to provide details of the opportunities he is considering. "I have been looking at several things," he said.

Godine, 73, said he couldn't speculate on how the change in leadership might affect the redevelopment timeline for Town Center.

"I feel very confident and comfortable that the plan that we produced the last year and a half in collaboration with our architect Cooper, Robertson [& Partners] is a workable plan for Town Center that will create vitality and excitement for the citizens of Columbia and Howard County," he said. "I look forward to seeing it approved by county government."

Last year, Godine replaced Dennis W. Miller, who served as general manager for three years working under the Rouse Co. and General Growth, which bought Rouse in November 2004.

In a statement made when he accepted the job, Godine said: "I could not pass up the opportunity to work once again on the Columbia project. Columbia is a great place to live and work, but it hasn't yet reached its full potential."

He participated in a number of meetings involving the early planning stages of the town, including discussions about naming roads, the placement of mailboxes and where retail and residential should be built.

The current change in leadership comes at a time when GGP has been criticized for holding private meetings in the process of developing a master plan for downtown Columbia.

Not only have elected officials and civic leaders chafed over the lack of transparency in invitation-only meetings, the General Growth strategy for getting input from the community also prompted a union representing janitors and security employees to take out full-page newspaper ads criticizing the closed-door policy.

"I think there was some misunderstanding," Hamm said. "The intention all along has been to engage the community. Somehow that got lost in the translation. I think this issue will be short-lived, because we're going to be transparent. To create these superior places, the community must be engaged."

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