For more recent residents of the area, using the mind’s eye to imagine the landscape between Anne Arundel and Howard counties in March 1993 the month and year The Business Monthly was founded by Ed and Carole Pickett would be an eye-opener.
For starters, while Route 32 was already complete, Route 100 was not. It wasn’t connected between Route 97 and Interstate 95 until 1994, and was not completed, this time from I-95 to its western terminus at Route 29, until 1998. The Inter-County Connector, with its eastern terminus at Route 1 in Laurel, had already been discussed for more than four decades. Still, groundbreaking was 13 years off.
The charrette to discuss the recent development in Downtown Columbia didn’t happen until 2006 and Merriweather Post Pavilion was an underused relic that, at one point, might have been razed to build a big box shopping center. Fort Meade wasn’t teeming with as much activity before the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure and other on- and off-post growth, much of which resulted from 9-11.
The Arundel Mills and Waugh Chapel retail/mixed-use areas were basically open fields. In between those massive projects lies Odenton Town Center, where the multiunit residential development was still little more than two-decade-old discussion.
1993 was also when Southwest Airlines started daily service, to Chicago and Cleveland, at what was simply known as BWI Airport. As for the BWI Business District, it was home to only a handful of hotels and just some of the commercial development that’s in the area, which is also true of numerous pockets of both counties today.
Some observers call the above progress, others sprawl. However, the area’s evolution makes a glance back in time with some key players thought-provoking.
As for TBM’s unique market, “Anne Arundel and Howard counties create the ‘cross corridor’ between Annapolis and Columbia, and they also represent explosive economic growth during the last 30 years,” said Jay Winer, president of A.J. Properties, in Odenton. “Certainly, Route 32 and Route 100 allowed for growth in commercial, industrial and residential development to follow their paths.
“Distribution was the first to benefit, for obvious reasons,” Winer said, noting that the two arteries helped facilitate logistically beneficial locations for warehouses.
On the mixed-use front, “Arundel Mills was only possible with the Route 100 development and the area for Odenton Town Center was literally created by the alignment of Route 32,” he said, adding, “Sometimes it’s hard to know what comes first: population needing development or development attracting services and shopping.”
Remembering the early days of Route 100 spurred Owen Rouse, vice president of investment sales with MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services, to recall some buzz about the artery being part of a potential outer loop of the Baltimore Beltway.
“It runs along about 30 percent of the southwestern section of the Beltway, several miles outside of the loop,” said Rouse. “To this day, I wonder if there are there more exits planned.”
It’s hard to fathom using valuable real estate for such purposes now, but 30 years ago BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport “was surrounded by industrial projects,” said Sam Minnitte, senior vice president and national transportation lead with PRIME AE Group.
The shift toward office, flex, what had gown to about three dozen hotels and neighborhood retail in what is now the BWI Business District was spurred by the growth of Southwest Airlines at the airport, where passenger traffic has exploded from about 12 million in 1993 to the most recent (pre-COVID-19) figure of approximately 27 million.
“I’ve worked in this market since 1986 and have had the pleasure of seeing BWI Marshall’s exponential passenger growth, as well as that of the facility, going strong to this day,” said Minnitte, “That it’s still known as the ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ airport is a testament to that fact.”
He also noted that “When routes 100 and 97 were built, they were modern projects, but while transit is also better due to light rail and bus service, more needs to be done,” he said. “Of late, not all of the arteries seem as progressive. Both get overcrowded during the summer and peak periods, for instance.”
Dick Story gets it about the crowded roads. The former longtime CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority recalled that planners projected “a significant reduction in traffic” on the east/west routes of 108 and 32. But “while Route 100 provided a shortcut for additional eastbound traffic on Interstate 70, as well as to BWI Marshall, Fort Meade, Annapolis, etc., those routes saw little or no decrease in traffic.”
Nor, apparently, was there any increase in ridership on the commuter rail lines: Story noted that the Penn Line, MARC’s only electric line, “hasn’t helped (concerns) in the Corridor much,” with the majority of passengers terminating their commutes at Baltimore (from Harford County) and at Washington (from Baltimore).
Like the Penn Line, the Camden Line is mostly used for commutes to Washington or Baltimore. Both lines are limited in their growth potential because CSX owns the tracks and takes priority for its freight service.
But all told, Minnitte said, “The BWI Business District has experienced fantastic growth with the Arundel Mills complex, Live! Casino & Hotel, Fort Meade and our area health care options. Much of that is due to the efforts of the BWI Business Partnership.”
Joe Rutter, who long ran the Howard County Department of Planning & Zoning and also led Anne Arundel’s department for four years, noted that 30 years ago ground had not been broken on Maple Lawn it wasn’t until 1997 that Howard residents “went through the knockdown-drag out” fight about the new mixed-use community that focused on density, especially since much of the area was built on the Iager family’s farmland and the buildouts of the Merriweather District and the Lakefront had not been envisioned.
“But note that all of it,” Rutter said, “has been successful.”
Another key moment in Howard, he said, was the rezoning of the western part of the county to cluster lots one unit for 4.25 acres from the minimum three-acre lots. “That provided,” he said, “significant preservation of farmland without paying for it.”
After his move to Anne Arundel County, Rutter testified on the BRAC Commission by discussing the advantages of the relocation for employees of the Defense Information Systems Agency. “There was considerable pushback” from DISA staff, he said, “because they didn’t want to move to the Odenton area from Arlington, Va.”
But he considers BRAC a success as well. “All you have to do is look at an aerial map of greater Fort Meade and you can see the changes,” he said. “Now even Route 175 has been expanded.”
What are the plans going forward? While the momentum in Columbia is moving to the Lakefront, new projects are being discussed around Odenton and expansion continues at and around BWI Marshall, also know that the gains of the aforementioned three decades also lead to this fact: developable land is hard to come by.
But whatever comes next, understand that plans are often interrupted by life.
“COVID-19 interrupted the growth in the Corridor, but it also changed as real world, market driven changes do what and how development should take place,” Winer said. “We’ve all learned that we all need to pivot as necessary, in shorter time spans, to react and address changing conditions.”
And while that can be very difficult, new directions can lead to solid results on the bottom line. And elsewhere, too.
“Some amazingly positive things were accomplished during the last three years,” he said, “and that’s a lesson in how municipalities and developers work together.”