UPDATE: The information in this post is now out of date based on the approved final development plan for the Crescent neighborhood phase 1. For more current information please see my post “The Crescent development by the numbers”.

Downtown Columbia neighborhoods

Downtown Columbia including the Crescent and Areas 1 though 4 within it. Click for high-resolution version. Image adapted from Downtown Columbia Plan: A General Plan Amendment (Howard County, Maryland, Adopted February 1, 2010), Exhibit E, “The Neighborhoods”.

Enough random impressions of the proposed Crescent development—what’s actually proposed to be built? In the pre-submission meeting representatives of the Howard Hughes Corporation outlined their proposal to develop in four separate areas of the overall Crescent property, with construction to occur in three separate phases.

The overall Crescent nighborhood surrounds Symphony Woods on the west, south, and east like a giant letter “C” open to the north, hence the “crescent” name. On the west and south the Crescent is bounded by Broken Land Parkway and the exit ramp from US 29, on the east by US 29 itself. Within the Crescent development will be restricted to four areas, designated Area 1 through Area 4. (See the accompanying image; at the pre-submission meeting John DeWolf of Howard Hughes joked about the unimaginative naming.) The remainder of the Crescent will be retained as natural space, with no development planned except for the construction of a few paths through the woods. (Some of this natural space is currently not wooded, but will be replanted with trees as part of the overall development.)

Of the four areas, Area 3 is the most important in terms of defining the new Columbia downtown. As envisioned by the Howard Hughes Corporation it includes six residential buildings, a hotel and convention center, a concert hall (possibly named “Merriweather Hall” or similarly), an aquatic center suitable for competitive swim meets, a new Central Branch of the Howard County Library System, and lots of retail and dining space, for example occupying the first floors of the hotel and residential structures. At least some of the residential structures could be up to 20 stories tall; the remaining structures in Area 3 (including the hotel) could be up to 15 stories tall. Parking in Area 3 would be in the form of parking garages in the residential buildings and a parking garage behind the hotel, conference center, and library.

Rendering of proposed Crescent development

Rendering of proposed Crescent development in downtown Columbia. Click for high resolution version. Image © 2014 The Howard Hughes Corporation; used with permission.

Areas 1, 2, and 4 are more conventional. Area 1 and Area 4 are proposed to contain general office buildings; in the pre-submission meeting DeWolf expressed a desire to have a single major corporate tenant occupy all the space in Area 1 (for example, a company like McCormick & Co. Inc., currently considering relocating its headquarters from northern Baltimore County, or a large Federal contractor). Area 2 is currently proposed for use as medical offices. All three areas are proposed to have small amounts of retail space as well, in total well less than 5% of the space in those areas.

The development of the Crescent is scheduled to occur in three phases. Based on John DeWolf’s comments in the pre-submission meeting, apparently Howard Hughes changed the originally-proposed schedule to front-load more construction in Area 3. If so I think this was a wise move: It more quickly brings the benefits of the various public and civic uses (which are of interest to people throughout Columbia, Howard County, and beyond) as well as bringing some initial residents to downtown Columbia to liven the scene and provide a local customer base for shops and restaurants constructed in phase 1. Without any Area 3 development in phase 1 the Crescent would simply look like another corporate office park.

The overall Crescent schedule then looks as follows:

Phase 1 would see initial office space in Areas 1 and 2, initial residential, retail, and dining space in Area 3, and the hotel, conference center, library, and aquatic center also in Area 3. Parking would be provided primarily by surface lots in Areas 1 and 2, and by parking garages in Area 3.

Phase 2 would add more office space in Areas 1 and 2, along with a small amount of retail, and more residential and retail space in Area 3. The surface lots in Areas 1 and 2 would be cut back in size to make way for office space and parking garages, and more parking garages would be constructed in Area 3 as part of the residential development.

Phase 3 would add yet more office space in Areas 1 and 2, along with a bit more retail, and more residential and retail space in Area 3. The surface lots in Areas 1 and 2 would be completely replaced by office space and parking garages, with more garages being constructed in Area 3 as well, again as part of the residential development.

Overall construction of office space would be spread roughly equally over all three phases, as would construction of residential units in Area 3. Most if not all of the restaurant and dining space would apparently be constructed in phase 1, with more retail space coming along in phase 2 and especially phase 3.

For more on the details of exactly what will be built and when see my next series of posts, beginning with a look at phase 1 development.

Edwin Baker (catslidefarm@gmail.com) - 2014-04-07 16:25

The Crescent and the Woods Frank, The model photograph of the Crescent development (above) makes the best possible case for preserving Symphony Woods and putting the Inner Arbor amusement park in some other location. Symphony Woods gives the Crescent its shape and character. With all of the activity scheduled for the Crescent, adding another activity center by tearing down the remaining woods is a terrible idea. I understand your enthusiasm for the creative (if untried) structures proposed in the Inner Arbor plan, although the “picnic table” and “caterpiller” seem silly, but the cost of building and maintaining them (construction estimated at $30 to $40 million), the destruction of the last large wooded open space in Downtown Columbia and the competition they will be to activities in the Crescent and the Mall makes their development unreasonable. Ted

hecker - 2014-04-08 01:16

Thanks again for stopping by! In response: Based on everything I’ve seen and read (and that’s a lot) the Inner Arbor plan is not going to result in “tearing down the remaining woods” or anything close to that; if anything it will likely result in fewer trees being removed than the previous (Cy Paumier) plan. However I think there is a valid distinction between the literal Symphony Woods (i.e., the CA property proper) and what people think of when they think of “Symphony Woods”. I may do a blog post on that topic.