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May 2024 Retail and Development News Roundup

Introduction: It's been a minute since I've regularly been posting articles on The Merriweather Post. This is not a business or even a side-hustle for me, it's just a hobby blog to share my passion and interest in retail and development happenings in Downtown Columbia and surrounding areas. So, please excuse the intermittency as the blog has taken a backseat in my life. Despite the hiatus, moving forward, (but no promises!) I'm going to attempt to restart posting in a new abridged monthly format - a single monthly post briefly touching on recent retail and development news I've been following. So, with that said, here's the May 2024 update.


Downtown Columbia Housing/Development Update

In Downtown Columbia, the plans to add affordable housing combined under one roof with a public amenity (a cultural center, library, fire station and transit station) as agreed to in the 2010 Downtown Columbia Plan, as amended, have stalled. Very few of the 900 units of affordable housing that have been promised have been delivered. None of the 417 units set to be built by the County and Housing Commission are anywhere close to even starting construction. While the COVID pandemic, inflation, and rising construction costs have all played a role in these delays, the primary reason that none of these amenities or housing units have come online is because of inaction and delay by Howard County government.


To spur action, the Howard County Housing Affordability Coalition has just this week launched an advocacy effort to put pressure on the Howard County Council to fund these projects. A presentation on The Promise, Status, and the Challenge of Downtown Columbia Affordable Housing was held on April 29. Not only does this presentation offer tangible advocacy steps that supporters can take (hint: sign their petition or e-mail the councilmembers to show support for the Downtown plan), but the presentation provides an excellent overview of the plans, progress, and current status of each stalled project, and is well worth a watch for those wanting to learn more.


What's Costello Going to Build after their big Court Victory over Howard Hughes

Both The Baltimore Business Journal (Howard Hughes ordered to pay $16.9M in damages over Columbia lawsuit, April 16, 2024) and The Baltimore Banner ($17 million jury verdict paves way for major development on Columbia’s lakefront, April 24, 2024) wrote about the court victory of Costello Construction over Howard Hughes Corporation that will, pending a promised appeal from Howard Hughes, award Costello millions of dollars in damages and allow Costello to move forward with the second phase of redevelopment on their 6 acre site on Columbia's Lakefront.


The new $17 million dollar question is now 'What will Costello build on this site?"


During a April 20, 2023 planning board meeting (see ~44 minute mark), David Costello shared his planned vision for the parcel - a concept originally developed in 2019 - that includes a residential building, office building, tennis barn with parking below, a retail arcade, and a bridge connection across Lake Kittamaqundi, Below are screengrabs of some of the renderings that were shared by Costello during this meeting. Keep in mind that this concept was originally developed prior to the pandemic over 5 years ago, so its certainly possible that changes and modifications will be made, but at a minimum, it demonstrates that Costello is thinking big and hopes to maximize value of his property by adding several large buildings.


Keep in mind that Howard Hughes already has the go-ahead from the planning board to develop their adjacent ~10-acre property into Lakefront North, Phase 1 of Howard Hughes's Lakefront North is slated to include 675 new residential units across 3 new buildings along with street-level retail on a new pedestrian-oriented street grid.


With the development planned for these parcels by the two rival developers, the area to the north of Columbia's Lakefront could one day look very different. And hopefully, the competition will help put downwards pressure on rental rates.


Rendering of Costello Phase 2 Concept showing new buildings and pedestrian bridge - viewpoint from opposite side of Lake Kit.

Cross-sectional rendering of Costello Phase 2 Concept showing tennis barn, office building, parking, and new residential building in the background.

Map View of Costello Phase 2 Concept. In the foreground (in white) is the Howard Hughes property set to be developed into Lakefront North.

Hickory Ridge Village Center Legal and Lease Updates

In another court case regarding stalled development in Columbia, the ongoing legal battle to redevelop the Hickory Ridge Village Center continues. Another year, another appeal, another court. By way of background, Kimco, owner of the Hickory Ridge Village Center, had petitioned to redevelop the Hickory Ridge Village Center into a mixed-use property nearly a decade ago. That request to redevelop the Hickory Ridge Village Center was ultimately denied by the Howard County Zoning Board in 2021. Kimco then appealed the case to the Howard County Circuit Court in 2023 and the Court upheld the decision of the Zoning Board. Next, Kimco appealed the case to the State Appellate Court, which heard oral arguments on March 12, 2024. As of this moment, we are still awaiting the ruling from the State Appellate Court. Should the Appellate Court also rule against Kimco, Kimco's last court recourse would be to seek review by the Supreme Court of Maryland, our state's highest court.


In the meantime, many of the retails spaces in the Village Center continue to sit unoccupied. In positive news, Kimco has leased one of the many vacant spaces (the space formerly occupied by Hickory Ridge Grill) to tapas and wine bistro Ranazul. It was originally announced that the restaurant would relocate from Maple Lawn to the Hickory Ridge Village Center over a year ago, so local residents have been eagerly awaiting its opening. While no opening date has been announced at this point, the restaurant has been posting regular updates on their Facebook page documenting progression as they retrofit the interior space.


While it is exciting to hear of one new business coming to the half-vacant center, it has also come to public attention (see ~19 minute of April 29, 2024 Hickory Ridge Village Board meeting) that Kimco has denied leasing another vacant space in the village center (the former site of Belle Luna Italian restaurant) to a local resident looking to open a family-oriented coffee shop and café. Despite 6 months of negotiations that were characterized by Kimco frequently adding new requirements and conditions, Kimco ultimately backed out of the deal upon determining that their costs, including the necessary health and environmental remediation, were too high. It seems Kimco would rather allow these spaces to continue to remain unoccupied than invest in updating them into rentable conditions. Quite frustrating.


Lakeview Retail Center

Rumor has it that Uber Bagels will be coming to the recently-constructed retail strip at 9851 Broken Land Parkway across from Lake Elkhorn. A post on the Howard County Eats Facebook page by a poster proven to be a reliable source of information on this retail strips stated that the bagel shop and deli will be the fourth and final tenant. I'm a big fan of the Ocean City location of Uber Bagels, so it will be exciting to have a location closer to home. I do note that while the Facebook post states this is the fourth and final tenant, the site plan for the retail strip shows a total of five retail spaces. So, it's possible that that there is either (a) still one more retail space available or (b) the two empty sites on the retail map will be combined into Uber Bagels. As far as the other tenants, Chipotle Mexican Grill has been open for several months now. Jersey Mike's is expected to open in June and the construction of create-your-own healthy bowl concept Mahana Fresh should begin soon, tentatively hoping to open by the end of Summer.


Merriweather District Site Plan Update

The latest site plan of the Merriweather District was released April 4. It shows that Pinnacle Financial Partners has leased the space next to the recently opened Medium Rare on Merriweather Drive (boring!). Speaking of Medium Rare, my favorite part is... (spoiler alert!) when the waitstaff brings you a surprise second helping of steak and fries after you clear your first plate. Yum!


In other Merriweather District news, Allure Nail Spa has also (quietly) opened - it's the first retail space to open in Marlow. It appears that the wine-bar Smashing Grapes isn't far behind - while I haven't seen any opening date announced yet, they look awfully close and just held a hiring fair earlier this week, a sure sign they are on the cusp of opening their oversized round-top door. In terms of the other places coming soon, I have also noticed visible progress at Gyu San Japanese BBQ, Gong Cha Tea and Kyo Matcha, the Angry Jerk, and Mighty Quinn's BBQ. But, I have not yet seen any work being done inside either Jrip Coffee or Eggspectation, though it's possible I have just not noticed it. As it stands, only 3 retail spaces remain available in either Marlow or Juniper.


The 3rd is Closing

At the end of May, The 3rd will be closing the doors of their physical space at the Columbia Lakefront. While the location (and cafe within) will close, The 3rd, as a non-profit organization dedicated to building community and empowering women of color entrepreneurs will continue under the leadership of founder and CEO Laura Bacon. An e-mail message announcing this change was sent to The 3rd's distribution list on April 9. This is a huge lose for Columbia and the Lakefront. Major Bummer!!


Columbia Association Elections

There were three contested elections held on April 20 for seats on the Columbia Association Board of Directors. At this point, only the results of one of these elections is known. In Wilde Lake, incumbent Bill Santos defeated Kat Uy 218-200, securing a new 1-year term on the CA Board. But, the necessary quorum of 10% was not reached in either Owen Brown or Harper's Choice. Accordingly, the results of these elections will not be known until the annual meetings continue. The continuation of the annual meeting in both Harpers' Choice and Owen Brown are both scheduled to occur on Tuesday May 7. Results should be announced at these meetings. The winners of these 2 elections will each serve a 2-year term on the CA Board. The Baltimore Banner covered the CA elections (yay!) in an article Let's try it again. 2 villages in Columbia fail to get quorum for the CA Board elections, published on May 2, 2024. The article provided a lot more research and insights into the quorum process, and its exciting to see a news organization covering CA elections.


Closing Thoughts

One observation of mine as I have researched and wrote about the local retail market over the past 5 years is that new construction, including the retail in the Merriweather District and newly built strip malls like Lakeview (covered above) or 10730 Little Patuxent (home to 7-11, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, and Hangry Joe's) lease up fairly quickly. I think this is because starting with a vanilla box retail space is generally preferable to tenants, as it gives them a blank slate to customize the space to meet their business needs and vision. With some exceptions, most leasees in these new-build spaces are well-funded national chains and/or part of a regional restaurant group with the financial backing to undertake their interior renovation. Meanwhile, vacant spaces in older existing retail buildings, such as those in village centers, either don't get leased or if they do, the tenant struggle to keep the doors open as they not only must contend with razor-thin margins of the retail/restaurant industry, but higher maintenance expenses and unforeseen repairs that come with leasing space in older buildings. As a resident, while I am certainly appreciate and patronize all the proven restaurant concepts opening in our neighborhoods' new retail spaces, I want to see and support local entrepreneurs starting new businesses as well, but it appears to me that challenges exist for small business owners looking to find and maintain rentable space.

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9 commentaires


Re: Bridge. It’s interesting that a developer can include in his plans a bridge on CA property? I’m not for or against the idea but would like to understand the development process that allows this. Does mean that anyone who is a lien payer can develop CA property as long as they can get the CA Board to allow a easement?

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En réponse à

Brian, you aren't the first to mention this and I regret not being more clear on this point in my article. Lake Kittamiqundi and the surrounding areas including the Lakefront promenade and pathways are open space owned by the Columbia Association. So, if Costello wanted to construct a bridge over Lake Kit as shown in their renderings, then they would need permission and an easement agreement from CA, which is something the CA Board would need to vote on and approve.

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thank you for updates. I like reading all your news and sharing the topics with my neighbors.

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I've missed these updates! It would be nice to get some updates on the Long Reach Village Center redevelopment. Seems like the county got a single offer to buy the property from Columbia Concepts (same group in charge of redeveloping the Columbia Flier building), who put together a very attractive (though ambitious) concept plan. The website for that plan is no longer visible, so maybe they're fine-tuning it.

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Hi Neil - I think I may tackle the status of all Columbia village centers in a future post. I did some research on Long Reach and got to the same place as you - the County issued an RFP, there was one response, and now the County is considering that proposal but no decision has been reached. I'm trying to obtain the concept plan as I also could not find it. It has been discussed at a LR village board meeting earlier this year, so it had been available at some point.

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Thanks so much for the update! I've been trying to find out info about Mighty Quinn's and the other restaurants, to no avail. Excited about Uber Bagels, but I'm sad that the coffeehouse/bookstore won't be happening.

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En réponse à

Are you aware that there is a new bookstore at Snowden Center (Queen Takes Book)?

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Jeremy, thank you very much for sending the video on the downtown Columbia Housing out (I never got it), the retail updates, and other news. All of this is a true public service, and I for one appreciate you squeezing it into your busy schedule.

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