The demolition of the American City building, Columbia’s historic first low-rise commercial space, signals the redevelopment momentum spreading through the Lakefront District.

While much of the activity here will be limited to infill development, the district is poised to undergo a fundamental transformation.

“We’re seeing [the Lakefront] as a comprehensive health care offering integrated in a dynamic, high-density mixed-use neighborhood,” said Gabe Chung, senior vice president for development at the Howard Hughes Corp. in Columbia. “It’s a very ambitious plan.”

Howard Hughes’s vision includes three million square feet of new development throughout the district that will include new medical offices and a variety of residential products.

“The new anchor is expected to be a brand-new large format fitness facility along with shops and restaurants, all connecting to a new set of green spaces, plazas and parks,” Chung said. “This master plan will also tie in to the miles of existing trails and pathways and the amenity base that already exists.”

During the fourth quarter of this year, the Sterrett Building, former home of MedStar Health, is the next demolition target.

New Construction

Following that, Columbia’s master developer will begin nearby construction for approximately 200,000 square feet of medical office buildings.

“Retail and restaurants will line the bottom of that development,” Chung said.
In terms of residential products, “We’re looking at all potential residential uses right now,” he acknowledged, including living space for older individuals and offering a continuum of care.

“Obviously anything beyond Phase 1 will be market driven, but we’re being very bullish in our concepts, and there is a solid amount of interest ranging from health systems to major medical service providers, even Health IT groups and fitness components,” Chung said. “There’s a lot of alignment of interests in the district with the way Howard County is looking at addressing the health and wellness needs of its population base.”

Local Leasing Partner

In February, the Howard Hughes Corp. engaged Bethesda-based Gittleson Zuppas Medical Realty, Inc. to lease commercial medical space within the Lakefront District.

“As we enter this new phase of development, we are looking forward to working with Gitltleson Zuppas with their rich depth of medical leasing knowledge,” said Greg Fitchitt, president of the Howard Hughes Corp. “We are excited to continue building Downtown Columbia as a regional hub, with a focus on health, wellness and fitness. [This] partnership plays a vital role as we continue to attract companies that are key players in creating a health and wellness ecosystem.”

Currently, Lakefront District tenants promoting healthy living include Haven on the Lake wellness retreat center and Whole Foods Market.

“Downtown Columbia is being reimagined with new live-work-play opportunities,” said David Gittleson, principal of Gittleson Zuppas. “We are excited to have been chosen to help the Howard Hughes Corporation realize its vision for the Lakefront District as a holistic health and wellness community.”

Redevelopment Update

According to the Downtown Columbia Redevelopment Monitoring Report released last September, building permits have been issued for approximately 14 percent of the Downtown Columbia Plan’s retail space, 15 percent of the office space and 19 percent of its residential units.

An additional nine percent of retail, three percent of office and 18 percent of residential units were currently proceeding through the plan review and approval process.

The report noted that new roads and connections have begun to offer more route choices and disperse traffic over a more connected transportation network and claimed the addition of approximately 2,000 new parking spaces.

The Lakefront District is designed to minimize automobile traffic and is connected to walkable and bikeable pathways providing access to Merriweather Post Pavilion, Symphony Woods and The Mall in Columbia as well as nearby natural settings surrounding Lake Kittamaqundi and Wilde Lake.

Howard Hughes officials anticipate the opening of the Lakefront District’s first phase of construction in late 2021 or early 2022, and said they are striving to enhance the unique character of the district.

“If you think about the norm of a sterile medical office environment, we’re breaking away from that at the Lakefront,” Chung said. “We’re creating a dynamic neighborhood where collaboration between different specialists can happen and [patients’] time can be used more efficiently.”