The fate of the New Cultural Center in Downtown Columbia is back in the hands of the County Council with a critical vote to fund the project set to occur as soon as the November 2 Council session. Legislative was introduced by County Executive Dr. Calvin Ball at the October 4 Council Legislation session that sets up a vote by the Council on whether or not to transfer $54.652 million out of a contingency account and into the Capital Projects budget. If approved, planning and construction would begin immediately in order for the mixed-used development that combines market-rate and affordable housing with an arts and cultural center (providing a new home for Toby's Diner Theater) to be completed by the end of 2024.
As the County Council contemplates this decision, community groups and clergy are urging the County Council to "Seal the Deal" for the visionary Downtown Columbia Plan.
People Acting Together in Howard (PATH), a prominent community organization fighting towards broad-based equity, diversity, and inclusion in Howard County, is planning a virtual press conference for Monday night October 19 at 6:30 PM and advocacy campaign to support funding the project. Below is a press release from PATH and infographics from their website.
For more coverage of the New Cultural Center from The Merriweather Post, see my July 9 blog post describing the project based off an interview I conducted with Toby and Hal Orenstein and my notes from the September 14 County Council discussion on the project.
Community Groups and Clergy Urge County Council to “Seal the Deal” for Visionary Downtown Columbia Plan
Virtual Press Conference
6:30PM | Monday, October 19, 2020
COLUMBIA, MARYLAND —People Acting Together in Howard (PATH) is holding a virtual press conference on Monday, October 19 at 6:30PM to spotlight the urgency of this moment for the future of Downtown Columbia, as Howard County Council considers restoring funding for arts access and affordable housing through the mixed-use New Cultural Center project. The press conference will be followed by the County Council’s public legislative hearing on TAO1-FY2021 to move project funds out of contingency. PATH leaders will testify at the legislative hearing at 7PM.
In recent years, Howard County launched an innovative development plan for Downtown Columbia that would bring arts, education, mixed-use development, and affordable housing to the region; the first project and centerpiece of the plan is the landmark New Cultural Center (NCC).
“The NCC will draw families, tourists, and business to Downtown Columbia through its unique mix of arts and cultural offerings,” says Sharon Shaw, PATH and Howard County Education Association leader. “Including affordable housing at the site will allow people of all socioeconomic backgrounds to access quality arts and housing and exemplify Rouse’s vision of inclusion and equity.”
Howard County officials took an important stand when they passed legislation to include 900 units of affordable housing as part of the redevelopment of Downtown Columbia. This legislation was the result of years of discussion, deliberation, lobbying, and organizing by the Columbia Downtown Housing Corporation, Howard County Housing Commission, county officials, and thousands of local residents with groups like PATH.
“By delaying project funding, Howard County Council is dangerously close to losing $64 Million in state funding for affordable housing in the Downtown Columbia Plan,” explains Rev. Mary Ka Kanahan of St. John United Church in Columbia. “As faith and community leaders, we call on the Council to show moral leadership by voting for the New Cultural Center on November 2.”
Rev. Kanahan continues, “The business community, non-profits, housing department, and citizens fought for and support this forward-looking vision for a vibrant future for Columbia and Howard County. To reject the plan is to be out of step with the vision that we’re living into.”
People Acting Together in Howard (PATH) is an affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation. PATH’s 15 congregational and non-profit members have organized in Howard County since 2006 to create the EcoWorks youth employment program and secure housing protection for thousands of mobile home owners, millions in funding statewide for Medicaid recipients to receive care at home instead of in institutionalized nursing home settings, and pass the DREAM Act in Maryland. PATH played a key role in creating the original agreement for 900 units of affordable housing and community benefit including the New Cultural Center in the redevelopment of Downtown Columbia.