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The Village Center Edition - June 2024 News Roundup

From its onset, Columbia's village centers were envisioned to serve as the civic hub for everyday life of Columbia residents, helping foster a cohesive community by being a central gathering place that offered convenient access to shops, services, restaurants. Village centers successfully served this role for much of Columbia's early history.


Over the past several decades, much has changed. New retail development, big-box stores, Internet shopping, new trends in the grocery industry, changing consumer preferences and now, Downtown Columbia, have impacted village centers and resulted in many (but not all) of them failing to live up to the original vision.


This articles offers a run-down of each and every village center - including its ownership, history, retailers, vacancies and relevant development plans. The articles concludes with some parting thoughts on how best to reclaim the community focus of village center.


Scoring

Just for fun, I have included a completely arbitrary "score" of each village center by rating three key attributes (retailers, amenities, and location) based on my own personal assessment.


Retailers (Scored 0 to 3): Consideration of the quality, quantity, and diversity of the retail tenants based on my own highly-subjective preference for community-oriented local businesses and my general aversion towards national chains, and taking into consideration the size and vacancies of the village center.


Amenities (Scored 0 to 3): Consideration of the amenities located on or adjacent to the village center, such as Columbia Association athletic/sport faculties, village neighborhood centers, Howard County Government faculties (like Senior Centers or Libraries), HCPSS schools, a village green type space, nearby parks and any other amenities that are located on or adjacent to the Village Center.


Location (Scored 0 to 3): Consideration of the location of the village center in terms of the economic advantage/disadvantages derived from its siting, considering the amount of nearby retail/grocery competition, whether its tucked into a neighborhood or on a roadway visible to more vehicle traffic, and its customer base in light of the density of nearby housing and affluence of the area.


A Brief Note on Village Center Ownership

Before diving in, a quick note on village center ownership is that (with one exception) village centers are commercial real estate owned by profit-motivated companies who likely view the property primarily in terms of its revenue generation potential and are much less likely to value the role a village center plays as a community-building space.


Originally, Columbia's original master developer - the Rouse Company - owned 8 of the 9 Columbia Village Centers. But, in 2002, Rouse sold them all to Kimco Realty. Kimco is a publicly-traded real estate company that owns 569 shopping centers across the United States (For more, See Sale of Columba Village Centers Decried, The Washington Post, February 8, 2002).


Kimco has since sold off two of the centers (Oakland Mills and Long Reach), but remains the owner of six of them. As privately owned properties, the village center owners have full authority, subject to applicable zoning, land-use, and covenants, on most aspects regarding village centers, including tenant selection, upkeep and lease rates. Howard County Government, the Columbia Association, and Village Community Associations have no direct authority over most issues pertaining to village centers. Finally note that the private companies own the commercial real estate property, but many village centers also contain adjacent County and/or CA-owned parcels with a public faculity/amenity, that are generally integrated into and considered part of the village center.


So, let's get to it. In order form highest to lowest score, starting with.... (drum-roll).

 
RIVER HILL VILLLAGE CENTER

Owner

Kimco

Total Size

105,907 sqft

Retail Tenants

Giant, River Hill Grill, Ledo Pizza, Bagel Bin, Kokee Tea, Crumbl Cookies, Subway, Fulton Bank, The UPS Store, ATI, Tower FCU, RH Cleaners, Vintage Cellars, Hair Cuttery, Nouvelle Nail Spa, McDonalds, M&T Bank

Current Vacancies

None

Amenities & Neighbors

Columbia Gym, Village of River Hill's Claret Hall, The Gathering Place, Clarksville Commons, River Hill High School and Clarksville Elementary both nearby

From HR Retail. https://hrretail.com/properties/river-hill-village-center/

The River Hill Village Center delivers on the village center vision. It's the newest and amongst the largest village centers. It is fully-leased with a diverse mix of community-serving retailers. It is anchored by a renovated Giant grocery store that seems superior to other Giant grocery stores in Columbia in terms of both its modern interior and product offerings. Other River Hill favorite tenants include River Hill Grill, Bagel Bin, and Ledo Pizza. High-tech, fast-growing, social-media hyped Crumbl Cookie just recently opened a location the village center. A very strong "get" for a village center.


The village center is advantaged in terms of its location just off busy Clarksville Pike/Route 108 in the affluent River Hill neighborhood with less nearby grocery store and retail competition (compared to the density of grocery stores in Columbia's core). CA's The Columbia Gym and the Village Association's Claret Hall in River Hill) are both on site with River Hill High School a shortish walk away. It's a great location.


The lone source of frustration for the River Hill Village Center is the long-shuttered Ruby Tuesday restaurant building. This property is separately-owned and not part of the Kimco-owned property. A Chase bank branch is supposed to open in this location (making it the fifth bank in the center!), though it does not appear to be any signs of construction.


River Hill Score: 8 (Retailers - 3; Amenities - 2, Location - 3)


 
DORSEY'S SEARCH VILLAGE CENTER

Owner

Kimco

Total Size

86,456 sqft

Retail Tenants

Giant Food, Hunan Legend, Trattoria Amore, Pipilinka Peruvian Chicken, Yama Sushi, Honey Baked Ham, Casey's Coffee, Banfield Pet Hospital, Cleaners Plus, Parcel Plus, Great Clips, Kumon, Victory nails, Master Barber, Shell

Current Vacancies

4,000 sqft former bank space

Amenities & Neighbors

Dorsey Search' Community Association's Linden Hall

From HR Retail. https://hrretail.com/properties/dorseys-search-village-center/

Like River Hill, the Dorsey's Search Village Center is also doing just fine with a nearly fully-leased mix of community-serving retailers. The one vacancy is the former bank building. I suppose (to nobody's objection) that River Hill is hogging all the banks. Dorsey's Search is also anchored by a well-maintained newer Giant grocery store. It's home to standout tenants Hunan Legend, Trattoria Amore, Casey's Coffee, Yama Sushi, and Pipilinka Peruvian Chicken. Dorsey's Search is also advantaged by its location with less nearby competition and near households with higher incomes. Dorsey's Search has just one amenity on site, Linden Hall Dorsey's Search community center.


Dorsey's Search Score: 7 (Retailers - 3; Amenities - 1, Location - 3)


 
WILDE LAKE VILLAGE CENTER

Current Owner

Kimco Realty

Total Size

63,017 sqft

Retail Tenants

CVS, Starbucks, Smoothie King, Bliss Nail Spa, The UPS Store, Wilde Lake Karate, Bagel Bin, Pizza Boli's, Curry & Kabob, Feet First Sports, Today's Catch, Hunan Family, Anthony Richard Barber Shop, Absolutely Wine & Spirits, Grocery Outlet (coming soon).

Current Vacancies

9,161 sqft (3 spots)

Amenities & Neighbors

Amenities: The Columbia Swim Center/Splashdown, Wilde Lake Tennis Center, Wilde Lake Interfaith Center, Wilde Lake Community Association's Slayton House (home to the community theater group Silhouette Stages). The WLCA regularly schedules festivals and other community events on the village green. Schools: Wilde Lake High School, Wilde Lake Middle School

From HR Retail. https://hrretail.com/properties/the-shoppes-at-wilde-lake/

Wilde Lake was the first village-center to be built in Columbia (in 1967) and the only one to undergo a major redevelopment (completed in 2017) when Kimco transformed the ailing village center (it's principal tenant Giant Foods had closed in 2006) into a modern mixed-use development that now includes 230 residential rental units. The redevelopment had divided the community (see Wilde Lake: A Battle Over the Soul of Columbia's First Village Center, The Patch, Jan. 10, 2012). When designing the new village center, Kimco worked with the community and in consideration of resident input, Kimco retained and updated the existing retail buildings around the village green in order to ensure several beloved local businesses including Fresh Catch, Bagel Bin, Wilde Lake Karate, and Feet First would still have a home. Kimco also constructed a a new larger facility, designed specifically for neighborhood favorite David's Natural Market to ensure groceries would be available at the new village center since there would not be space for a full-size grocery store anchor. The standalone buildings housing CVS and Starbucks were also added and/or renovated. Despite itself, the new Starbucks has become a neighborhood fixture as a go-to meeting place for area residents. Now, given the passage of time, I think most Wilde Lake residents view the new village center favorable.


Since 1986, David's Natural Market has been a pioneer as a grocery store specializing in natural organic foods. Ultimately, the Wilde Lake location was unable to survive competing against Whole Food's economies of scale. It closed for good in late 2023.


The big news is that the space won't remain vacant for long.   A new grocery tenant - Grocery Outlet - is taking its place.


Grocery Outlet is a discount grocery store chain that offers deeply discounted, overstocked, and closeout products from name-brand and private-label suppliers. Because Grocery Outlet buys in bulk and negotiates closeout deals with manufactures, they are able to offer their products at significant discounts, sometimes up to 60% off conventional grocery store prices.  However, since they primarily sell overstock and closeout items, the selection of products available can vary widely from week to week. Seems like the brand could find better success than David's by providing a niche grocery market - heavily discounted groceries. Everybody likes saving money!


One of the primary things currently lacking in the Wilde Lake center are sit-down restaurants (Indian/Nepali restaurant Curry & Kebab is the only one). The Melting Pot had served this role for over 15 years, but closed in early 2020. The 5,500 sqft space has remained vacant ever since. My understanding is that it would take a significant capital outlay to bring this space into ADA and fire safety compliance, making it unlikely either Kimco or a prospective tenant would make the necessary investment needed to remediate and renovate this space into code-compliant condition. The financials just don't make sense. So, the sad reality is it is likely that this space will remain vacant.


Update (6/1/24, 1 PM): Shortly after posting, I learned that Kimco has plans to bring The Melting Pot space up to code with a prospective restaurant tenant in mind. Yay! News begets news.


More puzzling is that ~3,500 sqft of prime retail space remains available for lease in the ground-floor corner spot of the apartment buildings (next to Smoothie King). These spaces have never been leased.  Typically, vanilla-box retail spaces in new construction like this (that provide the tenant a blank slate to customize to their needs) lease up fairly quickly, so it's quite odd and somewhat infuriating that Kimco has been unable to find a tenant willing to pay whatever Kimco may be asking. Me thinks the rents too high.


As it stands, Wilde Lake Village Center has a nice mix of both national chains and small local businesses. It contains several amenities and neighboring facilities that help draw customers to the center. The WLCA regularly hosts festivals and other community events on the village green. With the running store "Feet First" on site, this village center has also become a hub for the running community in Howard County. The village center is the meeting point for an informal group run, dubbed the "Bagel Run" every Saturday morning at 7 a.m., where a 100 or more runners converge each week to run together and then some stay to grab a bagel at Bagel Bin. All these factors help draw customers to the village center, as does the tenants living in the apartments on site. If Kimco would only find a solution for the Melting Pot space and lease the remaining new construction spaces, then Wilde Lake Village Center could have it all. Even as it stands, it's without a doubt, my favorite village center.


Wilde Lake Score: 7 (Retailers - 2; Amenities - 3; Location - 2)

 
HARPER'S CHOICE VILLAGE CENTER

Current Owner

Kimco Realty

Total Size

99,989 sqft

Retail Tenants

Safeway, Rita's Ice, Maiwand Kabob, McDonalds, Papa John's, Dunkin', Subway, American's Best Wings, Hunan Diamond, Harper's Choice Liquors, Beauty N Go, Nail Center, Barber, Bank of America, Misako Ballet, BP

Current Vacancies

4,704 sqft

Amenities & Neighbors

Lots! Probably the best amenitied village center. Columbia Athletic Club, Bain 50+ Center, Columbia SportsPark (mini-golf, skate park, batting cages), Columbia Dog Park, Kahler Hall (HCCA) Cedar Lane Park, Harper's Choice Middle School, Old Cedar Lane (HCPSS Adiminstrative Buliding)


From HR Retail. https://hrretail.com/properties/harpers-choice-village-center/

Harper's Choice is arguably the village center with the best public amenities. Neighboring the village center are three CA amenities (Columbia Athletic Club, Columbia SportsPark, and the CA Dog Park), the Bain 50+ center, Harper's Choice Middle School, Cedar Lane Park and the Harper Choice Community Association's Kahler Hall. Wow!


While the village center is mostly leased up, I think it's reasonable to call into question the quality of the tenants, which are primarily fast food and/or takeout chains. While this may result in favorable financials for Kimco, I suspect that many residents would desire to see a wider variety of retailers and more community-focused businesses.


There are two current vacancies totaling close to 5,000 sqft, including a large former restaurant site (can somebody fill me in what that used to be? My research came up empty!), but it's certainly not the only village center that lacks a proper sit-down establishment. While I wouldn't stand it up it as an example of what other village centers should be, I think it's fair to conclude that it's doing better than many!


Update (6/1; 9 AM): The former restaurant site was the much loved Zapata's Mexican restaurant and it's regulars still keep in touch via a FB group. Folks fondly remember its green chili. After it closed in 2015 or 2016, Jazz's Island soul cuisine was there for a year or two.


Harper's Choice Score: 6 (Retailers - 1; Amenities - 3; Location - 2)

 
OAKLAND MILLS VILLAGE CENTER

Owner

Klein Enterprises

Total Size

58,200

Retail Tenants

LA Mart, Dunkin, Oakland Mills Liquor, El Gran Sabor, Lucky's China Inn, Talento Latinos, Metro PCS, Laundry Force Factory. On adjacent parcels: Pizzaman, Sam's Mart.

Current Vacancies

4,244 sqft (1 spot)

Neighboring Amenities

The Barn and The Other Barn, The Oakland Mills Interfaith Center/The Meeting house, The Columbia Ice Rink, an excellent Sunday morning Farmers Market, and great bike/pedestrian connectivity to Blandair Park and Downtown Columbia via the Bridge Columbia pathway over US-29. Its adjacent to Oakland Mills High School and Middle School.

From Klein Entreprises. https://kleinenterprises.com/oakland-mills/

At 58,000 sqft, Oakland Mills is the smallest of Columbia's Village Centers and thus has far fewer retail tenants than others. The commercial retail building is owned by Klein Enterprises, which acquired the retail building (along with 8 other shopping centers in the mid-Atlantic region) in 2022 from Cedar Realty Group (Cedar itself had acquired the Village Center from Kimco in 2005). In the press release announcing the sale, President and CEO Daniel Klein said “We’ve seen how our grocery-anchored shopping centers have performed and we’re very comfortable that it’s very stable and isn’t going anywhere.” I infer from this quote that Klein has no current intentions to pursue major redevelopment.


The family-owned international grocery-store LA Mart is the principal tenant at the village center, occupying over 2/3 of the retail space. LA opened in 2018 succeeding Weis Market (which opened and closed within 2 short years) and before that Food Lion, and before that something else and before that something else. Hopefully, with its unique focus on international products, LA Mart has greater success than its predecessors.


The only vacancy at Oakland Mills is a notable one; the large restaurant space that used to be home to the beloved neighborhood bar and grill Second Chance Saloon (and prior to that Last Chance Saloon). Co-owner Jacquie Ramsey was quoted in the Baltimore Sun article about its 2020 closure:

“Neighborhood bars aren’t what they used to be. Everything is building up around [The Mall in Columbia], so we’ve had to deal with that the last couple years, too. There are all these new great restaurants around the mall. They’re name-brand restaurants, and we’re a mom-and-pop restaurant. The people who support us kept us going for 12 years. It’s difficult to keep a mom-and-pop restaurant through all this.”

Second Chance Saloon exemplified the exact type of community-focused neighborhood institution that residents desire to be part of a thriving village center. It also is a reminder that that increased competition makes it more difficult for mom-and-pop businesses like this to compete and thrive.


Hip Hop Fish & Chicken is coming to the drive-through restaurant location that used to be home to a Little Caesars' Pizza. The fried seafood and chicken chain has a couple dozen locations elsewhere in Maryland.


A full-service 7-11 with a gas station, car wash, and convenience store is currently being constructed at the entrance to the village center at the intersection of Stevens Forest Drive and Robert Oliver. This is the large fenced-in construction site that you can't miss when driving by.


Oakland Mills Score: 5 (Retailers - 1, Amenities - 3, Location - 1)

 
HICKORY RIDGE VILLAGE CENTER

Current Owner

Kimco Realty

Total Size

100,803 sqft

Retail Tenants

Giant Food Grocery Store, Meadows Frozen Custard, Grille Chick'n Pollo, Peking Chef, Koto Sake Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi, Gritty Goblin Games, Decanter Fine Wines and Spirits, Domino's Pizza, Ranazul (Opening Soon!), Hickory Ridge Animal Hospital.

Current Vacancies

11,073 sqft (6 spaces)

Amenities & Neighbors

Unlike many other village centers, there are no amenities at the Hickory Ridge Village Center. No CA recreation or fitness facility. No community center (Hickory's Ridge's community center - The Hawthorne Center - is a couple miles away). No pedestrian/cycling pathway that enter into the village center. Atholton High School is right down the road. A Greater Montessori preschool and Sunrise Retirement Community are neighbors on site, but these aren't public community-serving spaces. What the Village Center does in its favor is its prime location on busy Cedar Lane.


From HR Retail. https://hrretail.com/properties/hickory-ridge-village-center/

As a Hickory Ridge resident and former member of the Village Board, I've been engaged in and written extensively about the long rigmarole to redevelopment the Hickory Ridge Village Center. In short, Kimco proposed to redevelop the village center over a decade ago in a manner very similar to their redevelopment at Wilde Lake (maintaining some of the existing retail and adding new retail buildings, apartments, and a new village green). Kimco's plan was met by fierce opposition from a small group of vocal residents who insist that their objection to adding apartments represents the majority viewpoint of the village of 13,000+ residents. Ultimately, the Howard County Zoning Board (compromised of the 5 members of the County Council) denied the redevelopment petition, to which Kimco is now in process of appealing.


Most recently, on March 12, 2024, Kimco's appeal was heard by the Appellate Court of Maryland in Annapolis. A decision has yet to be released by the Appellate Court. The Appellate Court may overturn the decision, which would allow Kimco to pursue the redevelopment plan, or the Appellate Court may uphold the decision of the Howard County Zoning Board, who denied the petition to redevelop. If the Appellate Court upholds the decision of the Howard County Zoning Board, then there is one possible avenue for appeal remaining. Or, Kimco may wait the required three years and submit a new plan to redevelop the Village Center. Of course, Kimco could also abandon any plans for redeveloping the Village Center. Bottom-line is that the future of the Hickory Ridge Village Center remains in flux.


Hickory Ridge was once a thriving Village Center. But, over the last decade plus, a number of beloved businesses have closed including neighborhood favorites Luna Bella (closed in 2016) and Hickory Ridge Grill (closed in 2018) amidst the uncertainty of future redevelopment. More recently, crepe and waffle restaurant Cafe Mezcla closed late last year. Meadows Frozen Custard, Grille Chick'n Pollo, and Gritty Goblin Games are the neighborhood favorites left standing. As I shared in last month's update, Kimco was unable or unwilling to work out a lease deal to bring a family-oriented coffee shop and cafe to the village center from a local resident who had been determined to open in her own community. Shame.


One of the lone pieces of good news in quite some time for the Hickory Ridge Village Center, or any village center for that matter, is the opening of wine bar and tapas restaurant Ranazul. Residents have been salivating for it open ever since it was announced over a year ago that the beloved restaurant that used to be located in Maple Lawn would be moving to Hickory Ridge. The restaurant has quietly soft-opened this past week, and initial reviews have been glowing. To the owners of Ranazul, thank you for bringing your restaurant to our village center! I cannot wait to be one of the many Hickory Ridge residents who make your new establishment our go-to neighborhood meet-up spot.


In researching this article, I realized that Hickory Ridge is the only village center that has no amenities on site. No CA gym or other recreational faculty, no County amenities, no nothing. There isn't even the village community center. Hickory Ridge's community center - the Hawthorn Center - is over a mile away. CA does own a parcel of land next to the village center where CA could potentially build a new CA amenity, but there are no current plans to doing anything with that property and CA seems highly unlikely to make any significant capital investments on new faculties anytime soon. But, it would be marvelous in my mind if as part of a coordinated redevelopment, both the village center and CA property were developed in tandem as part of a thoughtful integrated plan to bring both new retail, housing, and community amenities to the location, but there are likely too many factors working against that idea to make it a realistic possibility.


Hickory Ridge Score: 3.5 (Retailers - 1.5; Amenities - 0; Location - 2)

 
KINGS CONTRIVANCE VILLAGE CENTER

Owner

Kimco Realty

Total Size

108,158 sqft

Retail Tenants

Harris Teeter, The Corner Stable, Trattoria E Pizzeria, Rita's, Sushi Nari, King's Contrivance Liquor, Best Hunan, UPS Store

Current Vacancies

5 spaces (totaling 14,193 sqft)

Neighboring Amenities

KCCA's Amherst House, Hammond High School

From HR Retail. https://hrretail.com/properties/kings-contrivance/

Harris Teeter is a fantastic anchor tenant, but the puzzling happenings at the King's Contrivance Village Center go to show that having a solid grocery anchor just ain't what it used to be. In the past few years, national retailers/restaurants CVS, McDonald's, and Subway all closed. These aren't small business failing, but rather, the franchisee of three corporate giants each independently deciding that they no longer want to maintain a location at this village center. Seems fishy.


There is also the strange incident last year in which a bagel place/deli named Ize's had seemingly leased a space in the village center (presumably in the old Bagel Bin space that has been empty since 2014) and Kimco went so far as to add their sign to the large directory at the entrance, but that deal clearly fall apart, as the sign came down, and all hopes of a bagel place opening at the village center have been dashed.


The Corner Stable and Trattoria E Pizzeria Da Enrico are both holding on as high-quality retail tenants.


Collectively, there is nearly 15,000 sqft of vacant space at the King's Contrivance Village Center, more vacant space than other other village center at the moment.


For their part, in June 2023, Kimco held a public meeting with the community and assured attendees that they are focused on finding new tenants to fill the vacancies and insisted that they have no plans for major redevelopment. Kimco even put out a survey asking residents what type of businesses they would like to see come to the village center. But in the year since, there has seemingly been no progress on the leasing front, other than news that Chase Bank has leased the space previously occupied by McDonalds. A bank branch is probably last on people's list of things they want to see open in their village center.


I think the most logical explanation for the vacancies is that Kimco is playing hardball with lease negotiations and is simply asking more than tenants are willing to pay. However, despite what Kimco is saying, I'm skeptical. if I were a handicapper attempting to predict which of its village centers Kimco would next attempt to redevelop, then I would give the best odds to KC.


King's Contrivance Score: 3.5 (Retailers - 1; Amenities - 1; Location - 1.5)

 
OWEN BROWN VILLAGE CENTER

Owner

Ahold Delhaize (Dutch multinational conglomerate that owns Giant Foods and several other U.S Supermarket chains including Food Lion and Stop & Shop).

Total Size

106,437 sqft

Retail Tenants

Giant Food, Sonoma's, Chik N' Friends, Vennari's Pizza, Hair Cuttery, Avis, Future Nails, Warren Barber Shop, liquor store, drycleaner, others. Integrated into the village center are separate commercial properties containing McDonalds, Shell, Cat & Dog Hospital of Columbia, Royalty for a Day Spa, Julio & Alain's Hari Studio, Original African Braiding, Massagebyjoselyne, and Psychic Meditation Center.

Current Vacancies

5 spots (totaling 13,473 sqft)

Neighboring Amenities

Lake Elkhorn, Owen Brown Interfaith Center, Owen Brown Tennis Club. Nearby is East Columbia Library, the new East Columbia 50+ Center, the soon to be renovated East Columbia Library Park, Lake Elkhorn Middle School, Cradlerock Elementary School

From JLL. https://property.jll.com/listings/owen-brown-village-shopping-center-7180-cradlerock-way-not-tracked-maryland

Owen Brown Village Center is also struggling to retain tenants. Over the last year, two key tenants left - The Dollar Store and Bank of America, leaving Giant Foods as the anchor with just a few other remaining retailers. But any fear that the Giant is also in danger of leaving should be alleviated. Since the Owen Brown Village Center is (and has always been) owned by Giant Food's parent company, the Dutch multinational holding company Ahold Delhaize, it's unlikely that Giant will leave given that it's anchoring the property owned by its holding company.


There is some potential good news on the horizon. While community associations have no direct authority over the village center, the Owen Brown Village Board has engaged the County about the conditions of their village center in hopes of spurring the search for new tenants in the short-term and encouraging future plans for larger-scale investment and redevelopment in the longer term. The Howard County Economic Development Authority, which is a private-public organization designed to help assist businesses start and grow in Howard County, has helped connect prospective businesses with the center owners. While no leases have been signed, a coffee/pastry place is in reportedly in negotiations to lease the former Bank of America space, and a gym/bootcamp operator may be coming to the former Dollar Store location. Fingers crossed!


One thing that the Owen Brown Village Center has that few others do is a neighborhood bar and grill, Somona's. The restaurant has live music, happy hour specials, and sports on TV. It's been open since 1996 (I think that makes it the second oldest operating restaurant in Columbia, behind The King's Contrivance?) and while reviews are mixed and it doesn't appear to have as devote a following as Second Chance once had in Oakland Mills, it nevertheless represents the type of neighborhood-serving watering hole that I wish existed in more village centers.


Owen Brown Score: 3 (Retailers - 1; Amenities - 2; Location - 0)

 

LONG REACH VILLAGE CENTER

Current Owner

Howard County Government

Total Size

92,021 sqft

Retail Tenants

DoodleHatch, Roving Radish, African Art Museum of Maryland, Little Caesers, Roll Up N Dye, Blooming Hope Dominican Hair Salon, Howard International Grocer, others.

Current Vacancies

N/A

Amenities & Neighbors

CA Art Center, Stonehouse (Long Reach Community Association)


Photo by the Author

It's nearly impossible to briefly summarize the saga that is the Long Reach Village Center within a couple short paragraphs, but I'll give it a shot, starting with it's location. There's a Wegmans, Costco, Trader Joe's, Walmart, Target, Aldi, Weis Market, and Giant in retail centers within a 5 minute drive of the village center. With so much competition, the village center's anchor tenant, Safeway, closed in 2012, leading to further vacancies and rundown conditions, and ultimately to the County declaring the village center blighted. As what was hoped to be an innovative redevelopment strategy, the County itself purchased the village center in 2014 for $5 million. In 2017, the County seemingly had a deal in place to offload the center to Orchid Development for mixed-use redevelopment, but that deal fell apart. Fancy renderings of what would have been are still available online.


Now, 10 years after first acquiring the village center, the County is once again attempting to offload it for private redevelopment. A Request for Proposal for the disposition and redevelopment of the Long Reach Village Center was issued last summer, with responses due earlier this year. A single bid was received that the County is still in process of evaluating. No decision has yet to be reached on whether or not to accept this proposal.


The bid is from a newish entity called Columbia Concepts, whose website states the joint venture has been founded by a team of developers and builders deeply rooted in Howard County. Columbia Concepts was also just selected by the County to redevelopment the old Columbia Flier building into a community center, dubbed the Source, with a focus on providing recreational, health, and social services to teens and youth. Columbia Concepts plans for Long Reach were shared with the Long Reach Village Board on February 20, 2024, but the presentation or details of their proposal are not yet posted on either the Long Reach Community Association's redevelopment website, the County's Long Reach Rising website, nor Columbia Concepts Destination Long Reach page, though the LRCA page states the plan includes indoor sports spaces, retail, residential, and community green space. Stay tuned.


In the meantime, while owning the village center over the past decade, the County has certainly done a more than adequate job finding tenants to occupy the empty spaces and provide something of value to the community (presumable for well below-market lease rates). Hence, DoodleHatch, the Roving Radish, the African Art Museum of Maryland, and others. Though temporarily and not financial-viable (if paying market rents) these are fantastic community-centric concepts that I hope find a way to live on in some format if/when the center is ever redeveloped.


Long Reach Score: N/A (Retailers - N/A [can't make a comparable judgement since its not being operated for profit], Amenities - 1; Location - 0)

 

Closing Thoughts

In my mind, Village Centers would be the ideal place for local community-oriented independent small-businesses to set up shop and thrive.


In Columbia, we have every name-brand chain you can think of located in either the Mall in Columbia or the shopping centers and strip malls lining the Snowden/Dobbin corridor. Howard Hughes' Downtown Columbia has certainly cornered the market for being home to the second, third, fourth or nth location of proven hip concepts brought to us by a well-financed restaurant teams that have already demonstrated a proven track record of success and timely rent payments. But, what we lack are many community-oriented locally-owned independent small businesses. I think a big part of the reason for that is that there just aren't many commercial spaces with rental rates that are approachable for new entrepreneurs.


Launching a successful independent business is hard enough! Many fail! Especially with all the competition we have here in Columbia. Unfortunately, as the rundown provided in this article demonstrate, Kimco's business practice seems to be to charge as much as possible when negotiating new or renewed retail leases, and they are not opposed to seeing a business close or a spot sit empty if a prospective tenant does not meet their demands. Certainly not the most ideal landlord for a new business venture, but there aren't a plethora of alternatives, given that the majority of retail space in Columbia are owned by either Kimco or Howard Hughes, both whom are commanding top-of-market rents. This explains why most of the smaller "mom-and-pop" businesses that are located in Columbia have found space elsewhere.


So what can be done about it?


As noted throughout the article, the village center owners have full authority on whom they lease their property. But, that doesn't mean there is no role for local government and public input.


Fortunately, the County is already well aware of the challenges facing small businesses. HoCo By Design, the County's new General Plan, includes this passage on supporting small, local, and minority-owned businesses, and notes that village centers would be an ideal place for them to be located.

Many local businesses provide inviting places to connect with other community members. They are often family-owned and offer fresh, customized approaches that are not found in chains or big-box outlets. However, despite the unique and creative experience these businesses provide, they are traditionally more susceptible to changing economics and redevelopment pressures. Over the past several years, small businesses have faced pandemic disruptions, supply chain problems, and staffing shortages. These recent challenges have left some small businesses struggling to remain afloat, with minority-owned enterprises among the hardest hit.
As technological advances continue to lower the costs of launching new businesses, opportunities for economically-disadvantaged entrepreneurs grow. Ongoing support is critical to assist small local businesses in Howard County as economic changes and redevelopment occur to retain small, culturally diverse businesses that support the local community. Throughout the HoCo By Design public engagement process, small business owners voiced concerns about being priced out of owning a business and noted village centers as ideal locations for small businesses today and a redeveloped Gateway as ideal for the future.

The Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) exists to help businesses start and grow - and they have been and will continue to be an important entity that is part of the solution. In 2014, the Columbia Association, HCEDA, and the Howard County Government jointly commissioned a market study on the status and future of the Columbia village center. Since then, its clear that the market conditions have only gotten worse. A logical next step would be revisiting this study to update the market assessment and identify viable recommendations and potential actions that could be taken to help ensure village centers remain a central hub for Columbia's communities where a variety of local entrepreneurs and community-oriented small businesses can open and succeed.




Update (6/3/24 8:30 AM): Added missing retailers to the list of Owen Brown Tenants. Notable OB omission Chik N' Friends is now on my list of places to try (as is Hunan Legend in DS, El Gran Sabor in OM, and Curry & Kabob in WL). Also now corrected is that the County purchased the Long Reach Village Center in 2014 from American Realty (not from Kimco). In fact, there there have been several different owners of Long Reach. The chain of ownership is The Rouse Company (1974-2002), Kimco (2002- 2005?), Cedar Shopping Centers (2005? - 2010), American Realty LCC (2010-2014), Howard County Government (2014-present).


I also refer to Wilde Lake as the only village center to undergo a major redevelopment, but that isn't entirely true. Many of the village centers were originally developed with an inwards-facing design in that store entrances faced a center area instead of facing the parking lot. Realizing the competitive disadvantage, several of the village centers have been reconfigured so that the grocery store and some other retail space were outward facing. These reconfigurations, like the one in Owen Brown, has lead to some odd layouts in which some retailers are "hidden" in secondary buildings that lack prominence.


Finally, in an excellent follow-on piece (Columbia’s Village Centers in 2024 and Why You Should Read The Merriweather Post, Village Green/Town²), Julia McCready suggests that the public space within each village center is a factor that should have received great consideration in my ratings. I agree! A reddit comment also suggested how well pedestrian and cycling infrastructure is integrated between the village center and surrounding neighborhoods as another factor to consider. If I were to reconsider how I did these ratings, I would give greater weighting to the retailers, and add "Public Spaces", and "Neighborhood Integration" as new factors.


Update (6/3/24, 5 PM): One final note on Kimco. Not only do they own 6 village centers, but Kimco also owns several other Howard County shopping centers including Columbia Crossing, Columbia Crossing II, Long Gate Shopping Center, Enchanted Forest Shopping Center, and parts of Snowden Square. In total, Kimco owns 1.6 million sqft of retail space in Howard County, of which 600k sqft are in village centers and 1 million is not. All the non-village center retail spaces are fully leased.

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I did notice that Long Reach High School and the Long Reach Tennis Club were not included as amenities for the Long Reach Village Center when similar nearby amenities were included for other village centers.

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Now I understand why Jeremy did this piece! I just watched the CA Board of Operations meeting and surprise, surprise a new Board member wants a discussion's of the the current CA /Vilage relationships

please pay attention to this issue as the CA board begins its discussions. I suspect Residents will have much to say on this topic.

Stay tuned

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I lived behind Long Reach VC in Lazy Hollow from '97 - '02, right after the refurb of the Safeway. The CVS had already left. The bank was empty and the gas station was dangerous after dark. The freestanding restaurant was a dump that couldn't find it's identity. The Arts Center was very cool and a bunch of good restaurants cycled through. It's big problem was a walkway under 175 that was being used by loiterers and harassers of the VC. The police were slow to react and residents started going elsewhere. I got sick of it and moved.

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Jeremy Where are you going with this analysis?

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Ah, I see. I blog and write pieces like this since I'm interested in the topic and enjoy researching and writing and synthesizing information. I'm very much intrigued about how and in which ways Columbia changes and develops as time passes and it grows. So, that's really the reason I blog about the topics I choose to write about. As far as next steps for village centers in particular, as I said in the conclusion of this piece, I'd like to see CA, the County, and HCEDA revisit the old village center market study I linked to, and reevaluate them, and consider what steps, policies, and actions could be taken to ensure village centers can be a hub for comm…

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Kimco was not the owner of Long Reach when the county purchased it. The Baltimore Sun reported that "the majority owner of the village center, Long Reach Village Associates LLC, a corporation affiliated with Pikesville-based America’s Realty, approached the county about purchasing its holdings in the center sometime in the fall 2013." The Starbucks at WL was an existing building.

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I did some more research on Long Reach ownership history and edited the article and added a note at the bottom. Also, fixed the Starbucks building reference in WL. Thanks again!

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