Friday, December 4, 2009

The Dust-up Over Merriweather

As the Sun reported, all is not well in the relationship with CA and General Growth.

What's up with that?

Apparently the friction stems from what CA folks think is a land grab by GGP. They didn't appreciate General Growth's original vision of putting lots of cultural buildings and such in the middle of Symphony Woods, a prime piece of property owned by CA. By contrast, CA's vision includes a fountain, a snack bar, Merriweather and relatively little else of permanence in the park.

Greg Hamm, GGP's point man for the Columbia project, made it pretty clear during the council's work session earlier this week that GGP's support for Merriweather redevelopment, including whether to eventually turn it over to the community, depends in part on what GGP gets out of it.

"We think Merriweather needs to be alive more than 30 days a year," he said.

If the community is willing to rehab Merriweather, GGP might be willing to increase its effort - i.e. spend more money. He said the stage area is currently too small to accommodate the towers of equipment that many shows now require, and there's insufficient access to the back of the facility for the caravans of tractor trailers that typically accompany larger productions.In addition, the two wings of seating need more permanent cover and other amenities require upgrade.

So improvements and "easements" are essential.

"If Merriweather becomes part of a cultural hub that feeds the rest of the community then it's a lot more valuable to us and we'd be more interested in making it all it can be," Hamm said.

Later, he seemed to reconsider his remarks. "Ultimately," he told the council, "this is the community's land and the community's plan and the community has to buy off on the right thing to do here and we want to be part of that solution."

As the work session went on, one thing became clear: The success of downtown redevelopment depends a lot on CA and GGP getting along. Too many parts of the GGP plan -- whether it is a path, a transit system etc -- need to hook up with CA property and the rest of Columbia.

It was also clear that the two sides have had precious little interaction at this most important phase of deliberations. Who's at fault? We have no idea. But in the end, the greatest plan in the world will not have a ghost of a chance if people cannot cooperate.

Council members urged Hamm to reach out to CA and others.

"It's a two-way street and it has to work both ways," Hamm said.

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