Rouse would love Symphony Woods plan [Letter]

March 18, 2014

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman's visionary commitment to arts and culture and the Inner Arbor Trust's design of Symphony Woods benefits all in Howard County and honors the Rouse tradition ("Symphony Woods' development stirs more debate," March 13).

The Design Advisory Panel's overwhelming endorsement of the Inner Arbor Trust's plans for Symphony Woods, as well as Mr. Ulman's commitment to expedite the turnover of Merriweather Post Pavilion to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, illustrate the excitement and determination of the Howard County community for a comprehensive development of arts and culture in Downtown Columbia. The Inner Arbor Trust's plans represent both remarkable sensitivity and creativity from a renowned team of celebrated, globally recognized designers dedicated to create the landmark park we deserve. James W. Rouse, who yearned for a Tivoli Gardens in downtown and proclaimed that "cities must be fun" would be pleased with the trust's plans for a beautiful, elegant park which will surely be filled with smiles, laughter and inspired imaginations. In the Rouse tradition of people-centric destinations, it is not surprising that one of Rouse's proteges, Michael McCall, a 30-year resident of Columbia, is shepherding the park's design and development.

The legendary Merriweather Post Pavilion, perhaps our community's most treasured attraction, is nationally recognized as one of the best amphitheaters in the country, but the 50-year-old facility is rapidly deteriorating. Columbia Association, the Inner Arbor Trust and Howard County have boldly moved forward with Symphony Woods in creating a world-class arts and culture park in downtown Columbia that will surround the pavilion. Yet Merriweather's structures are in dire need of repair and restoration. Merriweather requires essential updates so that it can be a 21st century amphitheater to support audiences for many generations to come. As County Executive Ulman has declared, it is imperative that the singular Merriweather-Symphony Woods neighborhood progress with the same vision and commitment to excellence that Howard County's most well-known and endeared destination deserves. This is why we must support the county executive's proposal to expedite the already legislated turnover of Merriweather from the Dallas-based developer to the community which it serves.

Having grown up in Columbia and now a resident of Howard County, I am excited to see the potential for a thriving arts and culture district in downtown Columbia which will undoubtedly be a major destination. This is not only critical to our quality of life, it is strategically essential to our future as an innovative, vibrant and progressive community. This is why we must implement a "…new kind of culture park where the landscape becomes a setting for arts, culture and civic uses," as mandated four years ago in Howard County's "Plan for Merriweather-Symphony Woods Neighborhood."

Debbie Ellinghaus, Fulton

The writer is chair of the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission.

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