Hamm puts emphasis on teamwork

Q&A GGP executive offers views on Columbia

January 04, 2008|By June Arney

Gregory F. Hamm, 45, an executive with nearly 20 years of experience in planning and development, recently took over as regional vice president and general manager of Columbia for General Growth Properties Inc. He replaced Douglas M. Godine,who had worked as first vice president, development, with responsibility for Columbia, since March 2006.

Hamm,who has been a consultant for General Growth and has maintained an office in Columbia for more than a year, 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. In his new position, Hamm will oversee planning for redevelopment of downtown and also assumes chief responsibility for the redevelopment of Landmark Mall in Alexandria, Va.

Sun reporter June Arney interviewed Hamm about his new responsibilities, his understanding of Columbia founder James W. Rouse's vision and his dreams for Columbia's future.

You showed some independence in challenging The Mall in Columbia policy about the poinsettia tree that led to its reversal. Does that decision indicate anything about your style?

The decision to restore the poinsettia tree was a good decision. The management team continually evaluates its customers' likes and dislikes, and we were able to discuss it in the context of the broader community, as well. We know that we are more than the owners of The Mall in Columbia. Management agreed that it made a lot of sense to move it back. I don't think that anyone anticipated that there was that much sentiment about the poinsettia tree. It shows that people really care about their community in a way that makes it different from a subdivision.

I like to work collaboratively, and within our organization that means collaborating with our very good asset management team. When I am involved in a development, I try to put myself in the place of the people who live there. I try to hold myself to that standard. ... It's obvious when it's an important issue, and this was. General Growth takes those things very seriously.

The redevelopment of Town Center in Columbia seems to some as though it will never occur. It has been discussed for more than two years, and still there is no concrete plan. What do you think about the length of time involved here? What is the timetable?

To do these projects well takes a long time. This may seem longer because it was made public sooner. This went public very early. General Growth has hired some of the best design talent in the world to work on this project. [This month], we are going to announce the date of a community meeting, and we will also announce the steps of a process by which we will engage the community in multiple discussions about those aspects of the plan that are important to various groups.

What's really important in this is that the process be genuine and comprehensive. We're trying to think of the best way to do that. It may very well involve meetings at the village level, as well as meetings by topic, such as transportation. Some people are more comfortable in a small group asking a question than they are in a big forum. Our piece of this would hopefully take place over a 45- to 60-day period after which we would submit something to the county, and there would be additional community participation opportunities in the county process.

The opportunity for Columbia involvement will be thorough. There's been a lot of listening that's already taken place. Based on all that listening, we'll present our current thinking on how things could come together. In all likelihood, our additional process will be completed by the end of the second quarter. Soon after the end of the second quarter it will go to the county. Our thinking will change and be influenced by the community process.

A major issue in Howard County is affordable housing. Advocates want 20 percent of new units in Town Center to be offered at lower prices. What is your position on that issue?

I think that mixed-income housing is an important element of creating a rich fabric of a community. We will include a well-thought-out and meaningful component of mixed-use housing. It's important that people focus on achieving a sustainable contribution to affordability. Just framing the issue in terms of a percentage I don't think helps necessarily get to a solution. There needs to be a financial viability to it or nothing happens.

Although GGP does not own the village centers anymore, are you concerned that with the closure of the Giant supermarket in Wilde Lake, there is no convenient place for Town Center residents to buy groceries? Does that play any role in the redevelopment plans?

I don't have an answer for the village-center question right now, but it's something that's ... important.

Where do you live? Why?

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