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'Columbia Is On The Rise': How The Downtown Columbia Plan Is Changing Maryland's Second-Largest City

Downtown Columbia, Maryland

For many today, the definition of having the “best of both worlds” is living in a community that’s away from the hustle and bustle of a large city but is still close to restaurants, shops, entertainment and highly rated schools.

Since 2020, nearly 2 million people have migrated out of cities into suburban and exurban neighborhoods. In Washington, D.C., more than 23,000 residents permanently moved out of the city in 2021 — the highest domestic migration rate the District has seen in two decades. In Baltimore, about 6,000 residents moved between 2020 and 2021. While this may seem like a small number, it has contributed greatly to the city’s 6% population decline since 2010. 

In the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan region, residents looking for the best of both worlds might be eyeing Columbia, Maryland, one of the nation’s first and largest master-planned communities, spearheaded by The Howard Hughes Corp., a national mixed-use real estate development and management corporation.

“In the 1960s, James Rouse, the original developer of Columbia, came up with this vision for a new kind of city that would be located between D.C. and Baltimore and create a new sense of community, based on a shared sense of social responsibility and opportunity for sustainable growth,” said Greg Fitchitt, president of the Columbia region for The Howard Hughes Corp. “Rouse very thoughtfully planned out the community and brought people together to establish a strong social fabric in a beautiful setting. As the successor to The Rouse Co., we take great pride in completing his vision of a city in a garden.”

The Merriweather District offers restaurants, retail and entertainment surrounded by nature.

Fitchitt said that for the past 13 years, Howard Hughes has been working through a 30-year, $5B plan to develop 14M SF of new mixed-use development — with more than 6,000 residential units, 4M SF of office space, 1.25M SF of retail, outdoor parks and hospitality space — all in the heart of Downtown Columbia in fulfillment of the Downtown Columbia Plan, a progressive and transformative development plan passed by the Howard County Council in 2010.

“We’re 13 years into this decades-long development plan,” Fitchitt said. “We have developed about 2.8M SF, or about 20% of our plan, with 1,600 residential units and 750K SF of office space completed. For our team it is not just about the square footage or the number of units, but it is about the thoughtful development of spaces between the buildings that make this city such a great place to live and work for our community.”  

The plan kicked off with the development of the Merriweather District, including three Class-A office buildings, One and Two Merriweather and 6100 Merriweather, as well as two residential buildings, Juniper and Marlow.

Fitchitt said that the Merriweather District has also seen tremendous growth in retail, with popular regional restaurants, local restaurateurs and fitness centers opening locations in the district, including Busboys and Poets, Peter Chang, Banditos, Blackwall Barn & Lodge, Smashing Grapes, Mayweather Boxing and more. The retail and residential buildings are all centered around Color Burst Park, where Howard Hughes hosts free public events throughout the year. 

Howard Hughes hosts free events in Color Burst Park throughout the year, such as community yoga classes.

“The Merriweather District delivers what people love about modern, connected living, with parks, events, public art, world-class restaurants and nightlife," he said. "There are national corporations and ample opportunities for growth for all businesses. This is a city of livability, with less commuting time and more green space to enjoy. If you haven’t been here since before the pandemic, you need to come and see it for yourself.”

Along with the development of the Merriweather District, Howard Hughes launched a $10M renovation of the seven office buildings along Little Patuxent Parkway, now called Merriweather Row. Fitchitt said that the renovation includes brand-new amenity spaces, fitness centers, upgraded lobbies and outdoor gathering spaces in addition to new walkable pathways connecting the buildings throughout Merriweather Row, the Merriweather District and the Lakefront District. 

While development continues in the Merriweather District with 6300 Merriweather, the newest Class-A office building coming to Downtown Columbia, Howard Hughes is setting its sights on the rebirth of Columbia’s Lakefront District.

A rendering of the new Lakefront neighborhood in Downtown Columbia.

10285 Lakefront, an 86K SF Class-A medical office building under construction along Lake Kittamaqundi, is scheduled to deliver by the end of 2023. On the other end of the Lakefront District, the development of a new residential community is proceeding, which will include more than 700 apartments and retail spaces.

Fitchitt also said the Howard County Council just approved $5M in funds to advance planning on a new lakefront library designed by world-renowned designer Thomas Heatherwick. Earlier this year, County Executive Calvin Ball, along with the Howard County Library System, announced the conceptual plans for a new library, as called for in the Downtown Columbia Plan, located on the lakefront at the site of the former American Cities Building, which is currently a surface parking lot.

While these projects are underway, he said the Lakefront District has already welcomed retailers including Whole Foods, The Collective, a restaurant and concert venue, and The 3rd, a community coworking space and café.

Downtown Columbia’s premier medical office building is taking shape along Lake Kittamaqundi.

Looking forward, Fitchitt said that HHC is excited about the pipeline of development in the city, and how it will shape the future of Downtown Columbia.

“We're focused on continuing the transformative revitalization of the Lakefront District right now,” he said. “We’re community developers that are in it for the long haul, and we are dedicated to creating a great place for everyone who lives and works in the community.”

Howard Hughes specializes in master-planned communities including residential, commercial and mixed-use real estate. The firm’s communities span from New York to Hawaii.

This article was produced in collaboration between The Howard Hughes Corp. and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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