'Arts District' a fine concept for Symphony Woods

January 29, 2013

The debate over the redevelopment of downtown Columbia has often focused on how to best utilize Symphony Woods, the park setting that includes Merriweather Post Pavilion and, even more importantly to many, some of the oldest trees in the Columbia downtown.

To some, including County Executive Ken Ulman just this past week, this parcel represents the "centerpiece and lynchpin" for downtown Columbia's future development. With such great expectations for the property, there has been a great deal of debate on how to use the land.

Last Friday, the Columbia Association released a concept plan for the site. And we think there's a lot to like about it.

The idea, known as the Inner Arbor Plan, creates an "arts village," complete with three restaurants, a children's theater, the relocation of Toby's Dinner Theatre and a new 30,000-square-foot home for CA itself. The plan, conceived by Jim Rouse disciple and Columbia resident Michae McCall and endorsed by CA President Phil Nelson, not only gives a sense of purpose to the property but it keeps much of the land undisturbed. The Columbia Association board is now considering it.

Unfortunately, the plan at this point is long on concept and short on specifics. There still are no costs attached to the plan and how the project will be financed is unclear, including how much Howard County or CA will be on the hook for any of the expenses.

But before we worry about the finances, the missing piece is buy-in from residents and other stakeholders. So we hope interested parties will take the time to offer their comments to CA at a meeting tonight, Jan. 24, and again on Feb. 14.

And, if recent history of Columbia development discussion is any indication, there will be several people who will either not like the concept or will want to make alterations to it.

All of this is how it should be. But CA has unveiled a good idea. And it's one that deserves serious consideration.

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