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Where Howard Hughes Goes From Here After $90M Columbia TIF Approval

The future of Downtown Columbia took a huge step forward last week when the Howard County Council approved $90M in tax-increment financing for Howard Hughes Corp, downtown's master developer.


The financing will go toward building a key road (in the foreground of the above rendering) and a 2,500-spot parking garage for Merriweather Post Pavilion and new commercial development. The key infrastructure clears the way for Howard Hughes' next phase of development: two office towers with 700k SF between them, 750 units of residential in two buildings and 150k SF of street retail

The 1.7M SF will add to the 1.3M SF Howard Hughes has already completed or is constructing.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Howard Hughes executive Greg Fitchitt

"It felt good. It was a long road to get" to the TIF approval, Howard Hughes VP of development Greg Fitchitt told Bisnow yesterday. "It’s a really crucial milestone in the realization of the downtown." (Here's Greg with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, touring the MedStar offices in One Merriweather, part of Phase 1 of Downtown Columbia.)

Phase 2 will begin in Q3 2017, Greg says, with openings beginning in 2019. By the time Phase 2 is done, Howard Hughes will have built 3M SF of mixed-use development in Downtown Columbia, or almost as much as Phase 1 of The Wharf in DC. Except Howard Hughes' plans for Columbia will be only 25% realized.

"We’re still at the beginning stages of this plan," Greg says. "There’s a lot that we’ve done, but there’s a lot that we’ve left to do."

Rendering of Downtown Columbia

While the TIF has gotten most of the attention—it is a taxpayer investment, after all—the deal also is a win for affordable housing: 900 units of the planned 6,250 will be affordable, thanks to the agreement to increase the allowable density from 5,500.

If this package is ringing a few bells, that's because it's structured similarly—on a smaller scale—to a high-profile TIF agreement 20 miles up I-95, at Port Covington in Baltimore. That deal, a $660M package for Sagamore Development, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank's real estate company, will pay for infrastructure around the planned UA campus, where there is, in real estate parlance, "no 'there' there." 

In Columbia, there is already the mall and Merriweather Post Pavilion, and the city was just ranked the No. 1 place to live in the country by Money Magazine. But Howard Hughes' plans are just as crucial to the future of Columbia as the mall, the concert venue and excellent Howard County schools are to its esteemed present.

"Jim Rouse, who was the founder of Columbia, created this amazing, master planned community," Greg says. "He always wanted Columbia to be a real city, not just a better suburb. That’s really what we’re embarking on now. If we’re going to remain No. 1, we have to build a more walkable, vibrant community."