Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Keeping Up With The Joneses

In his recent presentation on plans for Columbia's downtown, General Growth's Gregory F. Hamm tried to tap our economic insecurities, our worries about our carbon footprint, our anxieties that our neighbors may just be passing us by.

He urged the HoCo Council to think about the town's place in the regional competition for jobs and commerce.

A huge opportunity is coming our way as the federal government consolidates cyber security operations and other functions around Fort Meade, he said. And a host of communities are jockeying to capitalize, many laying the groundwork for Columbia-like planned communities.

Places such as Catonsville, Savage, Laurel, Odenton, Annapolis, and New Carrollton are all talking smart growth, he said.

Hamm himself is keeping a close eye on a potential rival taking shape just south, right off I-95 where the state is fast at work building a new I-95 interchange to serve the Intercounty Connector.

Konterra -- the giant Prince George's planned community that's been on the drawing boards for seemingly forever.

You get the feeling from listening to Hamm that the new interchange might be just the spark Konterra needs to get rolling once the economy picks up.

Is Columbia up to the challenge?

Downtown Columbia might have a regional shopping mall that draws 15 million visitors a year, but the office buildings surrounding the retail center are hardly market leaders and the neighborhood village centers are suffering, he said.

More importantly, the town is "lacking a place that is attractive to young people who wish to make their careers and build their careers in and around Columbia."

They are exactly the sort of "best and brightest," he said, who may soon be looking around Fort Meade for a place to settle down. And it's not just the young. Baby Boomers who once sought out the suburbs for peace and quiet now hunger for a place that is safe and active.

General Growth thinks it has a plan to change that. Others have their own ideas. No one can really say how the regional competition for development will play out because right now the economy has left everyone's plans in disarray.

But judging from the reception so far from council members, the next few months will be about exploring the possibilities.

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