Photo courtesy of Design Collective.

The Howard County Council has finalized funding for a transformative first-class New Cultural Center (NCC) in Downtown Columbia. This project has been in development for more than a decade and will finally be realized, building upon the vision of Jim Rouse. The NCC will serve as the county’s new hub for arts and culture, including a new home for the iconic Toby’s Dinner Theatre, engaging arts programming and affordable housing units.

The NCC will be located on the current site of Toby’s Dinner Theater, which was also contemplated in the Downtown Columbia Plan. The design includes a new 350-seat theater and commercial kitchen, two 300-seat black box theaters, a gallery, dance studios, and various classrooms/performing arts rooms. Toby’s Dinner Theater will merge with the Columbia Center for the Theatrical Arts (CCTA) and rent the main theater, commercial kitchen, a dance studio and various classrooms. CCTA will also rent one of the black box theaters to serve as the new Children’s Theater in Howard County.

The total cost of the project, including the affordable housing component, is estimated at $131 million. The Howard County Council approved the $55 million in general obligation bonds necessary to move the project forward. There is also $65 million for the housing component in secured tax credits from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and other sources. And finally, an additional $10 million of TIF bonds for the parking garage component of the project.

“We have worked for many years to get to this point and create a first-class art and culture center for Howard County that will spur people’s love of art and theater and will be accessible to all residents,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. “The contributions that organizations like Columbia Center for the Theatrical Arts (CCTA), Toby’s Dinner Theatre, and Recreation and Parks have historically made to all residents of our community will continue in the new center. Additionally, it will be a vital component of the Downtown Columbia Plan and an important element in expanding affordable housing in the area.”

The NCC will be the first of five low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) developments, which is a critical component of the Downtown Columbia affordable housing plan as reflected in the Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreement (DRRA) passed by the County Council in 2016. This funding from the Howard County Council allows the construction of the NCC to begin this summer and be completed by the fall of 2024.

NCC Timeline (assuming approval of funding in January 2021)

  • Summer 2021 – Land sale occurs, construction of main theater and parking garage begins
  • Fall 2022 – Construction of main theater completed; original Toby’s Dinner Theater closes, and it moves into new space
  • Winter 2023 – Construction begins on balance of New Cultural Center
  • Fall 2023 – Construction of residential begins
  • Summer 2024 – Construction of New Cultural Center completed
  • Fall 2024 – construction of housing and parking garage completed
  • December 2024 – LIHTC deadline met