Downtown Columbia’s Merriweather District has been the primary focus of recent development activity. (Credit: Howard Hughes Holdings)

Permits for new construction amount to approximately 244,000 square feet of retail, 754,000 square feet of office space, and 1,670 housing units since the Downtown Columbia Plan was adopted in 2010.

That represents approximately 19% of retail, 18% of office space and 27% of residential units allowed under the plan. Demolition of existing office buildings reduces the total to roughly 16% of retail and 11% of office, based on square footage.

Those numbers, revealed in the 2023 Downtown Columbia Redevelopment Monitoring Report released in January, provide a snapshot of progress made in Downtown’s six core neighborhoods. To date, permits have been issued in every neighborhood except Symphony Overlook.

“More than a decade has passed since the Plan was adopted, and both our community and the world have dramatically changed since the last monitoring report was released in 2018,” said Lynda Eisenberg, director of the County’s Department of Planning and Zoning. “We have built on the successes highlighted in the last report during this time, and are excited for the new development on the horizon.”

The DCP was adopted as an amendment to PlanHoward 2030, the County’s previous General Plan, constituting a 30-year master plan for revitalizing and redeveloping Downtown Columbia. HoCo By Design, the new General Plan adopted last October, carries the DCP forward.

The 2023 Monitoring Report reflects that plan’s implementation across residential and commercial development; transportation and transit; arts and culture; and the environment and sustainability.

Transformation

Transformation activity started in 2013 with the redevelopment of the western portion of The Mall in Columbia, bringing an open-air market with restaurants and boutique shops surrounding a landscaped plaza.

The Warfield neighborhood received the first new residential development under the Plan with The Metropolitan, TEN.M and m.flats, which delivered a combined 817 rental units and 42,000 square feet of street level retail and restaurant space.

Meanwhile, ownership of Merriweather Post Pavilion transferred from Howard Hughes Holdings to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission in 2016 following a full renovation.

At 103 acres, the Crescent neighborhood remained the largest undeveloped downtown area until 2017.

Since then, the Merriweather District has sprung up inside the neighborhood. One and Two Merriweather have been completed, along with a parking garage. Other projects included the Juniper and Marlow apartment buildings, Busboys and Poets, additional retail, and a parking garage that contains a fire station to serve Downtown.

Additional projects in the Crescent that have not yet received building permits include a new hotel, Bark Social, a social club for dogs and their owners, and the New Cultural Center, which could potentially become part of the Lakefront library.

A site development plan for 701 apartment units and 19,013 square feet of retail in the Crescent is under review.

Rendering of 10285 Lakefront, a four-story state-of-the-art medical services building currently under construction in Columbia’s Lakefront District. (Source: Howard Hughes Corp.)

Affordability

Future plans for Symphony Overlook envision the Howard County Housing Commission developing a mixed-use site at the east end of Columbia Mall Circle that includes affordable housing and a transit center.

More affordable housing is expected to come online as a result of HHH entering into a Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreement with Howard County in 2017 that would create 900 affordable units in Downtown at full buildout.

That profile includes 200 Very Low Income Units, 200 Middle Income Units, 417 Low Income Units as part of Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) projects, and 83 affordable Live-Where-You-Work Units.

As of June 2023, 52 affordable units (26 VLIU, 26 MIU) have been built in Downtown, representing 3.5% of the total 1,671 units built thus far. An additional 164 affordable units are included in Site Development Plans related to the Lakefront and the NCC, which nudges the ratio of affordable housing closer to 8.5%.

Continuing growth

Over the next five years, HHH is on track to begin construction of 701 residential units in the Lakefront neighborhood, 77 of which are affordable. An upcoming revision of zoning and subdivision regulations is expected to simplify and consolidate the approval process for future Downtown development.

Other improvements will include increased street network connectivity, fixing gaps in the pedestrian network, enhancement of local and regional transit service, as well as planning, design, and construction of the new Downtown Columbia library.

“We saw tremendous growth with the opening of six new retailers in 2023,” said Kristi Smith, president of the Maryland Region for HHH. Those retailers included Mayweather Boxing, and the arrival of innovative dining options with The Collective, Peter Chang, Banditos, Toastique, and Blackwall Barn and Lodge.

“Our newest apartment Community, Marlow, saw strong demand throughout the year following its opening at the end of 2022,” Smith said. “We also unveiled the completed renovations at Merriweather Row, the seven buildings along Little Patuxent Parkway.”

The buildings were renovated with new lobbies and amenity spaces, she said, and additional pathways now connect tenants and residents with the rest of Downtown Columbia.

“We’re looking forward to delivering our new medical office building later this year,” Smith said. “We also anticipate 10 new retailers opening this year in the Merriweather District. After a busy 2023 with strong office leasing, exciting events and increased community engagement, we’re looking forward to another successful year.”