20 Day Countdown to Columbia’s Whole Foods
Whole Foods will open in Columbia’s famed Rouse Building on Aug. 20. For some, that just means organic red quinoa, but many will be interested that the grocer saved the Frank Gehry building, the heart of Columbia, from demolition.
This morning, owner Howard Hughes Corp’s John DeWolf told us some community members and Frank himself would've loved a museum in the building, but a commercial use was the only one that could underwrite the $25M HHC had to invest to save the deteriorating building. And it did come close to being torn down: John says that back when HHC and GGP were one company and owned the 150k SF building, GGP asked Frank for his permission to do so.
But it was worth saving for many. Almost every local has been to a wedding or bar mitzvah in the top floor Spear Room. And almost any retailer around the country made a pilgrimage to the GGP-predecessor Rouse HQ, which housed 600 employees at its peak, John says (that dwindled to 15 until HHC vacated for the renovation). John, who’s been working on HHC’s master plan for Columbia for three years, was once a retailer himself and says the building always had a retail feel to him: sitting below street level, with parking distributed on all sides, and Frank’s before-his-time ability to spread natural light throughout the building. Now that Whole Foods’ sign is up, John says, it looks like the building was designed for the grocer.
Yesterday, Garver Development’s Peter Garver (snapped on a recent vacation in Arles, France) told us he joined as a consultant four years ago, before GGP and HHC split. Other ideas for the building included retail and office, apartments on top, and multiple restaurants, and another corporation considered making the entire building its HQ. But John knew Whole Foods had always wanted a Columbia location. The idea took off, Peter says, after HHC and Whole Foods met at the May 2011 ICSC. Negotiations took 15 months, working out structural issues like the 5,000 SF of loading docks in the back, which are a floor lower than the store itself.
Here’s Frank speaking with John, Howard County Council member Mary Kay Sigaty, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, and others before renovations. There also were the 1974-era nine-foot ceilings, tight for a grocer. Ultimately, HHC agreed to tear down the middle floor to create more air, and while that meant giving up leasable feet, attracting Whole Foods to the area was a big win for HHC’s larger master plan for Columbia. HHC started core and shell work in March 2013, and Whole Foods now is in the home stretch on TI work.
Last week, Columbia Association broke ground on the 28k SF Haven on the Lake, a wellness spa opening Q4 on the same level as Whole Foods’ loading dock that will have its own parking lot and entrance on the side. HHC also will move back, taking the 20k SF top floor where so many events were held. That brings the property (89k SF) to 100% leased as C&W markets it for sale. Pictured above at the Haven on the Lake groundbreaking are Columbia Association’s Rob Goldman, Haven on the Lake GM Emily Talbot, The Still Point founder Tori Paide, Ken, Howard County chair Courtney Watson, Mary Kay, Downtown Columbia Partnership executive director Barb Nicklas, Columbia Association chair Andy Stack, and Columbia Association president Milton Matthews.