Check out the renovations at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Merriweather Post Pavilion (MPP) in Columbia, MD is in the midst of a $55 million renovation. If you haven’t visited for awhile, you’re in for a treat. The renovations are geared to enhancing the fan experience and providing appealing amenities to the performers in order to attract top talent. MPP celebrated it’s 50th anniversary in 2017 so the facility was due for some upgrades. 

The renovations are being coordinated by the nonprofit Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, which took over ownership of  Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2016. One of the first acts of the new leadership was to sign a new 40-year contract in 2017 with DC-headquartered I.M.P. to operate MPP.  The Commission hopes to supplement the traditional rock concerts at MPP with other artistic and cultural activities.

Ian Kennedy, Executive Director of the Commission, recently gave me a tour of the renovation work in progress. Here are some pictures for a glimpse of the new Merriweather Post Pavilion.

(Click on any image to begin the slide show.)

All photos are by Harry Schwarz, unless otherwise indicated.


The partners operating Haven on the Lake are fighting in court

The Columbia Association (CA) and Still Point Spas partnered to establish Haven on the Lake, a wellness spa in downtown Columbia, in 2014. Now they are battling each other in court and it doesn’t seem a fair fight. Still Point is accusing CA of “pursuing unrelenting legal actions; CA’s strategy seems to be to ‘bully’ the Still Point into leaving, dragging out the legal process so the costs become too great for a small women-owned business to continue.”

The founders of Still Point, Tori Paide and Marla Peoples, are acupuncturists I know from when I worked at Tai Sophia Institute (now MUIH). They are heart-centered people with the utmost integrity. They are also award-winning entrepreneurs and CA wisely partnered with them for their expertise in creating a healing environment and profitable business model.

Tori Paide, left, and Marla Peoples, founders of The Still Point spa at Haven on the Lake in Columbia, one of two locations

Tori and Marla shared their legal struggle with me, and while it’s their side of the story only, many of the elements are indisputable and the overall documentation seems to me compelling. I am sharing their story so that perhaps the court of public opinion might provide some support in their battle against Goliath.

The Still Point Wellness Spas Mission

The Still Point enhances wellness in our communities by providing access to the best integrative mind & body services while enabling wellness practitioners to thrive in a healthy and supportive environment.

Our highly trained practitioners are among the best in the industry and have a genuine passion for their gift of healing. We continuously strive to offer the latest in holistic skincare, massage and complementary medicine. We’re committed to offering personalized services and upholding the highest standards of customer service.

Our expertly-trained practitioners perform their services in beautiful and inviting environments. We seek to maintain an eco-friendly ethos in all aspects of the business, including Toma, a Still Point exclusive brand of personal care products free from animal cruelty, petrochemicals, phthalates, and parabens.

We’ve been voted “Best in DC” by the Washington City Paper year after year. The Still Point nurtures and inspires wellness – changing people’s lives and building healthy communities. We look forward to seeing you at The Still Point!

Summary of the Still Point at Haven situation

by Tori Paide and Marla Peoples

CA selected The Still Point to implement the spa at Haven on the Lake and CA insisted the relationship be structured as a partnership – with each party supplying 50% of the investment/work and, in return, each party would split the profit 50/50 (or share the losses 50/50).

Haven on the Lake website, January 3, 2015,

In fact, per the President’s Report to Columbia Association Board of Directors on November 13, 2014, at President Milton Matthews’ request, Vice-President Goldman gave a Haven on the Lake update regarding membership numbers, opening dates, and the grand opening event.

In response to questions, Mr. Goldman said revenue for the facility will come from memberships, class programs, and the wellness spa.

“CA and Stillpoint will share equally in the profits and losses of the wellness spa, and CA expects Haven on the Lake to break even financially during the third or fourth year of operation.”

For the first 2+ years this relationship generally worked as agreed, as reflected in invoices and payments between the parties based on 50% of profits as reported by The Still Point. This was despite dysfunction with CA’s own Haven Management team (having gone through 2 managers and not supporting the spa as agreed), often requiring Still Point management to step in and support some functions of the other parts of the Haven facility.

The spa did unexpectedly well in year one (roughly $70,000 profit). The projection for the first year had been a negative $50,000, so CA gave The Still Point $25,000 – 50% of the anticipated loss – then took it back after profits were made. The Still Point regularly paid 50% of monthly profits and had one month in the red where CA paid them 50% of the loss; there are emails, invoices, and checks reflecting the agreed upon partnership split.

On December 10, 2015, having completed one year of operations, Dan Burns, Director of Sport and Health, reported to the CA Board of Directors that they expected the wellness spa to lose money during its first year of operations, but instead received $37,000 from its operations to date.

Approaching Year 3, CA abruptly shifted their stance from that of a 50/50 partnership and emphatically approached The Still Point with a take-it-or-leave-it landlord-tenant agreement. Surprised by this, the Still Point engaged legal counsel and tried to negotiate a solution in good faith.

For the past 2 years, the two parties have argued in court about the nature of their business relationship, with The Still Point arguing the existence of a legal partnership and CA’s wrongful termination of their partnership, and CA asserting the existence of a landlord-tenant relationship. CA has since engaged its own case to evict the Still Point. CA has also incrementally made managing the spa more difficult taking actions such as:

  • Cutting the spa off from doing laundry in the facility,
  • Cutting access to spa clients to the Healing Environments for spa guests which resulted in the spa lowering prices,
  • Refusing access to KidSpace if spa guests didn’t pay a day pass plus KidSpace fee,
  • Cutting off spa membership with no notice as well as Haven gift cards to be used at the spa (both have which have balances due to the spa).

CA and their counsel have consistently sought to conceal evidence of CA’s internal records reflecting CA’s adherence to the real agreement between the parties and explicitly refused to respond to discovery requests related to their partnership, without any justification. At the deposition of Rob Goldman, who is a former CA officer and has direct knowledge of the real agreement between the parties, CA’s counsel repeatedly instructed Mr. Goldman not to answer questions related to the partnership or the formation of the so-called “lease” without any justification, and Mr. Goldman refused to answer these questions.

Governor’s Citation to Tori Paide and Marla Peoples, “in recognition of your outstanding record of quality service and commitment to excellence,” June 15, 2016

Before the lawsuit, and in an effort to bring about an amicable resolution to its dispute with CA, The Still Point attempted to find a location in downtown Columbia out of which to operate a spa, and had gotten as far as a letter of intent with the putative landlord. Shortly after, the landlord came to The Still Point and informed them that due to its relationship with CA, The Still Point could not rent any of their downtown retail spaces.

At various points, The Still Point has attempted to negotiate an amicable solution to the standoff, with no positive response from CA. This is more than CA adopting a strategy to vigorously assert its legal position. There are emails, invoices, cleared checks, public statements, meeting minutes and more that document the CA and The Still Point partnership. The Still Point honored the partnership in good faith even after the legal standoff began. CA’s strategy seems to be to ‘bully’ The Still Point into leaving, dragging out the legal process so the costs become too great for a small women-owned business to continue.

Affidavit of Tori Paide with exhibits, April 6, 2017

Second Motion of Reconsideration, April 30, 2018

The women behind The Still Point spas are primed to conquer the wellness market [Excerpts]

by Janene Holzberg (Howard Magazine), January 6, 2016

Five years ago, Marla Peoples made a casual remark to her husband, Dan, that turned out to be a life-changing declaration.

It was an ambitious plan to open a wellness spa with fellow acupuncturist Tori Paide that tumbled out as an “oh, by the way” remark — one that would culminate in the opening of two locations of The Still Point and the launch of a skin care line.

Tori Paide & Marla Peoples were given the Entrepreneurial Success Award by the Small Business Administration – Maryland, June 15, 2016. They are pictured at the award ceremony with Columbia Association management representatives Dan Burns, Director of Sport and Fitness; Dennis Mattey, Director of Open Space & Facility Services; and Milton Matthews, President.

Paide, who is 43 and lives in Ellicott City, boils it down this way: “Our common denominator isn’t acupuncture or making jewelry,” which they sold together for a while. “It’s having the guts to take entrepreneurial risks. A lot of people have creative ideas, but that fearless step has to happen in order for an idea to become a reality.”

“We both gravitate toward people who think big and out-of-the-box,” says Peoples, a 46-year-old Elkridge resident, of the partners’ affinity for boldness in personal and business relationships.

The Still Point currently employs 75 practitioners who work as massage therapists, acupuncturists, nutrition coaches and Reiki masters.

Rob Goldman, the now-retired Columbia Association vice president who was in charge of opening Haven on the Lake, chose the co-owners to provide spa and integrative health services in the luxury waterfront wellness retreat.

“Tori and Marla stood out because they are not only creative and innovative experts in their fields, but solid business professionals,” Goldman says. “I was impressed by their energy and enthusiasm.”

Aside from the spas, . . . . Toma, their line of natural skin care and wellness products, has become one of their most promising business ventures.

Tori Paide and Marla Peoples launched their own line of all-natural skin care and wellness products, called Toma, in 2013

Since the partners view Toma as a freestanding line, not just a Still Point spa product, it’s also sold at the Columbia Whole Foods, Cloud 9 Salon in Clarksville and Potomac Massage Training Institute in Silver Spring. They also hope to add more products this year and to place the line in competitors’ spas.

In preparation for such an expansion, they are searching for new corporate offices and warehouse space in a mixed-use facility after outgrowing their Sterrett Place location in Columbia in two years.

“Being two women business owners isn’t easy,” Peoples says. “The Howard County Economic Development Authority not only gave us a loan, they have been very supportive.”

Larry Twele, CEO of the development authority, says he’s glad the partners decided to become part of the redevelopment of downtown Columbia:

“Their passion and drive are a great example of the entrepreneurial spirit that thrives in Howard County.”

Resident Speakout, Columbia Association Board of Directors, April 26, 2018

Ingrid Pyne, a former Still Point at Haven on the Lake employee , shared her concerns at this Resident Speakout. (Click on image for Columbia Association video, then choose Item 5; Pyne is the first speaker)

Statement by the Columbia Association

“The original lawsuit was initiated by The Still Point, and its allegations were already heard and dismissed by a Howard County judge last year as having no merit,” said David Greisman, a Columbia Association spokesman. “The Still Point has chosen to continue the litigation, repeatedly appealing decisions that were in favor of Columbia Association. CA believes that The Still Point’s current appeal will similarly be denied. Columbia Association will not comment further at this time due to the pending appeal.”

Epilogue: Announcement of the Closing of Still Point at the Haven

We regret to inform you that The Still Point Spa at Haven on the Lake (TSP) is closed as of Monday, August 27, 2018. As many of you are aware, we have been fighting over the past two years to keep the Still Point open. For reasons still unknown to us, the Columbia Association elected to back out on our agreed arrangement for providing wellness services to the community in Columbia. Unfortunately, despite our best effort to work things out with CA directly and subsequently pursuing legal action to maintain what we had built into a successful spa and community service provider, we have reached the point where we cannot financially continue without a significant depletion of quality and overall service. We have not taken this decision lightly though have concluded that the only current course of action is to close. While the spa will be closing, we will continue our legal appeal for the wrongful termination of our partnership with CA as we will hold steadfast that TSP and CA formed and always acted as a partnership in the operation of the spa.

While the closing of the Still Point at Haven on the Lake is heartbreaking it is even more disheartening that, in our opinion, so many people within CA have acted with such a lack of integrity. As a small business, we are being forced to close due to the legal expenses of a lawsuit with a corporation that clearly has another agenda. Although this letter is not intended to rehash the past few years we feel it is important for the community to know that we did not give in lightly.

We are truly saddened at the loss of this labor of love and thank you all for your strong support over these many years. We are working diligently to find our staff a new home as well as a spa to honor our Promise Program credits and gift cards. We understand this poses an inconvenience for you and ask that you be patient with us as we connect with them to work this out. In the meantime, please contact the Columbia Association for any questions you have and with regard to outstanding gift cards or appointments.

The Still Point at Haven on the Lake Team

Autonomous Vehicle Technology coming to Merriweather District

Some famous person once said, the future will be here before we know it.  Well, the development of Merriweather District presages a bright future for Columbia. Rouse’s Columbia was always at the cutting edge of community development. The introduction of autonomous parking, with GREEN building design, and recovery of the surrounding ecosystem as we finish Rouse’s city, makes us a leader once again. 

“Our partnership with Howard Hughes Corporation will transform Merriweather District into the first city in the country to be built for, and operate, fully-autonomous parking technology,” said Anuja Sonalker, Founder and CEO of STEER. “The benefits are infinite.”

Merriweather District Groundbreaking includes announcement of autonomous parking amenity for Downtown Columbia neighborhood [Excerpts]

by Jean Moon (Columbia Patch), April 30, 2018

The Howard Hughes Corporation and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan broke ground today on the first urban, walkable neighborhood to be created within the Merriweather District, celebrating The Howard Hughes Corporation’s continued transformation of the district and the revitalization of Downtown Columbia.

Planned development of Area 3, Merriweather District (image by Howard Hughes Corporation)

The development of a new office building to be anchored by Tenable Inc., one of the largest and fastest-growing cybersecurity companies in the country, marks the latest milestone in Downtown Columbia’s emergence as a vibrant commercial hub for technology and innovation.

In addition, plans were announced for a neighborhood amenity to harness the emerging technology of autonomous parking. The Merriweather District buildings will be powered by STEER technology, the first fully-autonomous parking solution transforming everyday cars into driverless vehicles that self-park. This integration will transform the Merriweather District into the first city in the country to be built for automated self-parking cars.

Aerial view of planned development of Area 3, Merriweather District (image from Downtown Columbia, DTC Partnership)

“The Merriweather District is designed to be a dynamic live-work-play destination with access to unique offerings, great restaurants and an iconic entertainment venue within a beautiful, walkable environment” [said John DeWolf, President, Columbia, The Howard Hughes Corporation.]

STEER Autonomous Parking Video (click to play)

Level 4 Autonomous Parking Coming to Merriweather District in Columbia MD [Excerpts]

by Bryan Jonston (Auto Connected Car News), May 1, 2018

Click on logo for company website

STEER built the first fully-autonomous parking technology to transform everyday cars into driverless vehicles. The first application of STEER’s technology is a Level 4, highly autonomous and cybersecure parking solution – drivers simply exit the car at a destination, and the car parks itself in a designated parking lot. When consumers are ready to go, just summon the car via a mobile app.

The Merriweather District, a Howard Hughes Corporation project, will be the first high-density, mixed-use neighborhood to adopt STEER and power a truly tech-forward experience for residents, businesses and consumers.

“Our partnership with Howard Hughes Corporation will transform Merriweather District into the first city in the country to be built for, and operate, fully-autonomous parking technology,” said Anuja Sonalker, Founder and CEO of STEER. “The benefits are infinite; Merriweather residents can save time and gas getting to and from their cars; reduce stress and frustration hauling bags of groceries in inclement weather; and corporate partners will benefit from increased employee productivity by saving time and frustration looking for and walking from the parking lot to work.”

How Autonomous Vehicles Will Shape Cities

By Brooks Rainwater (National League of Cities), June 1, 2018

Today in America, autonomous vehicles (AVs) are already on our streets, with pilots taking place in cities nationwide. Technology like this can be utilized to make all of our lives better — but even if our hands are off the wheel, we must drive this future together.

Mobility: Tap taxis to tackle isolation

While most automakers don’t plan on selling AVs to the public before 2020, Lyft, Uber and Nutonomy have all started piloting driverless technology in select cities across the country. If you live in a city, your first ride in an autonomous vehicle will very likely be in a self-driving taxi. These taxis have the potential to provide a cheap and inclusive way for people who are isolated—such as the elderly and disabled—to get around.

Prototype Uber driverless taxi (click on image for Uber website)

Sustainability: Weaving a microtransit mesh

If your first experience riding an AV isn’t in a taxi, then it’ll be in a driverless minibus. Unlike the taxis, minibuses have pre-programmed routes and can carry multiple people at once. They will be an economical part of our autonomous future.

A driverless shuttle began operating this fall at the University of Michigan’s Mcity test facility in Ann Arbor (click on image for Mcity website)

Jobs & the Economy: A human touch on robot delivery

You may have expected that a drone would be delivering your takeout burritos, but it turns out robots on sidewalks will probably be doing it first. Autonomous robots will likely be a boon to local restaurants and shops, allowing them to more easily compete with megaliths like Amazon and provide customers with almost instant deliveries.

Autonomous robot (from CitiesSpeak, National League for Cities)

Urban Transformation: Rethinking buses, bikes, and barriers

Just as robots will likely be embraced by local businesses, robots will also likely serve a municipal role. Autonomous street patrol officers and ushers will become a go-between for residents and their built environments, and city infrastructure will become a flexible fabric with which residents can communicate.

Before long, we can expect to see thousands of autonomous vehicles on roadways, autonomous buses and transit vehicles providing rides, and autonomous conveyors shuttling back and forth on sidewalks making deliveries. 

Volvo pioneers self-driving garbage truck (click to play video)

Featured image at top of post

from the Volkswagen Group, currently testing autonomous parking at Hamburg Airport.


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The future of the Columbia Flier Building is uncertain

The Columbia Flier Building is iconic in Columbia, for its unique design by architect Bob Moon, and as the home of the Columbia Flier and Howard County Times for 33 years. Located on Little Patuxent Parkway just down from Howard Community College, the building went on sale in 2012.

With its open floor plans and zoned work areas, some considered it a perfect site for the Howard County Nonprofit Center being planned at the time. Instead, Howard County purchased the building in 2014 during the Ulman administration for the future home of the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, an initiative of the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

County Executive Kittleman nixed the plan shortly after he was elected in 2015, finding that renovations would cost approximately $7.2 million, almost three times the purchase price. The property has now been identified as a potential site for construction of affordable housing.

Here’s a close-up look at the building, and a glimpse at its history.

Former Columbia Flier Building for Sale [Excerpt]

by Sara Toth (Columbia Flier), July 13, 2012

Main Entrance, Columbia Flier Building (Cushman & Wakefield)

The building, which housed the Columbia Flier and its parent company, Patuxent Publishing, until 2011, opened in 1978 after two years of planning and construction. The Baltimore Sun Co. which is now owned by Tribune Co., purchased Patuxent and the Flier building in 1997. The building has been vacant since February 2011, when the Columbia Flier and its sister publication, the Howard County Times, moved to a suite of offices on Sterrett Place, in Columbia.

Earlier this week, Columbia architect Bob Moon, husband of the newspaper’s then-managing editor Jean Moon, said he designed the iconic building with a vision of youth. Continue reading The future of the Columbia Flier Building is uncertain

The Toby and Hal Orenstein Cultural Arts Center, coming soon to downtown Columbia, MD

On March 1st, 2018 the Howard County Planning Board unanimously approved the site development plan for construction of a New Cultural Center in Downtown Columbia. I’m jumping ahead a bit to be naming it after Toby and Hal Orenstein. She, of course, is the founder of Toby’s Dinner Theatre, the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA), and has been a seminal figure in the Columbia arts scene for 45 years. What other name could we possibly give this center that will be the new home for Toby’s and CCTA, other performance spaces, and has been a dream of Toby and Hal’s for decades?

Meet Toby

Since 1979 Toby Orenstein has been the Artistic Director and owner of Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, MD.

Toby is also the Founder and Director of the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, Inc. (CCTA). In 1972, at the invitation of visionary developer James Rouse, she created a school for young people who possessed an interest in the performing arts. A special group of those students, The Young Columbians, were invited to the White House and performed a musical tribute to America during the Bicentennial Year (1976). The Young Columbians still perform today at special programs all over Maryland. Continue reading The Toby and Hal Orenstein Cultural Arts Center, coming soon to downtown Columbia, MD

Development proposed for Columbia Lakefront advances the Downtown Plan

The second hearing on the Howard Hughes Corporation proposal for Phase 1 of development of the Lakefront Core Neighborhood, is before the Howard County Planning Board on Thursday March 15. Here’s a collection of images and diagrams that illustrate what Hughes is proposing, along with Columbia Association’s preliminary thinking about how the existing Lakefront Plaza might be enhanced. And an analysis of what the development could mean for Columbia.

The Vision for Lakefront Core

As stated in the Downtown-wide Design Guidelines, the vision for the Lakefront Core Neighborhood is to bring community life and activity back to the water’s edge. Lakefront Core should be a lively, walkable neighborhood connected and oriented to Lake Kittamaqundi. New development should be designed to incorporate outdoor corridors to enhance visibility and access to existing amenity spaces.

The Lakefront Core should be revitalized with new development that may include cultural, retail, restaurant, office, residential, and hospitality uses. The Lakefront Core and the surrounding Lakefront Neighborhood are envisioned to be the potential location for new signature building(s), in addition to the existing former Rouse Company Headquarters’ signature building.

Continue reading Development proposed for Columbia Lakefront advances the Downtown Plan

We need to revitalize the Hickory Ridge Village Center, now

Kimco presented their plans for the revitalization of the Hickory Ridge Village Center to the Howard County Planning Board on January 4, 2018.  Many Hickory Ridge residents, including long-time denizens, support Kimco’s proposal.  The Village Board and most citizens that testified at the hearing oppose it. But the issues raised by the proponents are central to the future of Hickory Ridge, Columbia, and Howard County. To further the conversation, following are excerpts from the testimony of  several supporters who testified at Thursday’s hearing.

Eric Stein, Hickory Ridge

Owner, Decanter Fine Wines, Hickory Ridge Village Center

I am in favor of the plan, because I believe the Hickory Ridge Village Center is failing.  When the Giant opened in 1992, it was advertised as a gourmet Giant. It isn’t. Not today, and hasn’t been for many years.  Today, we have 4 empty bays in the center representing 65% of 1 building, and likely more to come.  Contrary to belief, Kimco, the landlord, hasn’t forced these businesses to leave.  They have left for many reasons, but they will not be replaced until a decision is made on our future, and we’re suffering. Once this plan is approved, we will still have several years of an under-performing center.

Do we remain an outdated design where the merchants face inward and can’t be seen, or do we accept one that gives us a chance to compete with contemporary concepts.  The apartments are not an option, but a necessity.  You can’t do anything without people, and those that have left the center aren’t coming back.  At least not until we offer them an array of businesses that appeal to a newer audience as Columbia’s growth continues. Continue reading We need to revitalize the Hickory Ridge Village Center, now