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

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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

Latest plans for development of Merriweather District

The Howard Hughes Corporation shared additional renderings of the proposed development of Merriweather District (the Crescent) in downtown Columbia to the Howard County Planning Board on November 17, 2017. Simultaneously, they announced that the headquarters of the international cybersecurity company Tenable would be relocating there.

A look at these images and stories gives us a glimpse of what the Merriweather District is becoming.

View of Merriweather District full build-out looking East West: The three new buildings in Area 1, including the MedStar Building, is near the upper right. The Hickory Ridge Road entrance off of Broken Land Parkway is at the “Area 3” label of the yellow box. The Chrysalis is in the foreground.

Continue reading Latest plans for development of Merriweather District

The future of transportation is “Complete Streets”

Transportation has been in the news a lot lately. Governor Hogan announced his intention to spend $9 billion on a massive highway project. Howard County is holding public hearings on how to upgrade our public transit system. Columbia Association just held its annual BikeAbout. And Horizon Foundation is holding its Open Streets event Sunday October 1st.

We need to think of these aspects of transportation as an integrated whole or else we’ll waste a lot of money without fully supporting our community needs. Contrary to Governor Hogan’s approach, Howard County has committed to a “Complete Streets” policy, and the Open Streets event will demonstrate what that is.  Here I attempt to make sense of it all. Continue reading The future of transportation is “Complete Streets”

Howard County is a bicycling community – Join the fun!

As temperatures cool, more and more people are bicycling, for fun, exercise, and basic transportation. Howard County provides numerous opportunities to join the movement. There are several events coming up in the next few weeks and organizations that are devoted to cycling. Our transportation infrastructure is changing to support a more walkable and bikeable community. Bicycles are now available on demand for short trips around Columbia.

Come join the fun. There are no excuses not to. Continue reading Howard County is a bicycling community – Join the fun!

How government and nonprofit services came to be in HoCo

Forty-six years ago, as rural Howard County was being inundated by Columbia, a three-day charrette was held to consider what human service needs should be addressed by government and nonprofit organizations. Organized by the Association of Community Services and Howard Community College, the charrette was attended by some 335 people, including citizens, providers, community leaders, new Countians and old Countians. 

They overcame distrust, suspicions and competing interests to reach consensus on a report that is excerpted here. Many ideas were visionary, others just practical, some misguided. The goals they outlined are a measure of how far we’ve come in nearly half a century, and point to what more we have to do to create the city and county that James Rouse envisioned  – a place that provides for the growth of people.

It all started with James Rouse

In 1969, James Rouse created the Columbia Foundation [now the Community Foundation of Howard County] the first community foundation in the state of Maryland.  He and members of the founding board had the prescience to realize that the new town of Columbia would continue to grow and attract new residents and would have pressing needs for decades to come.

[James Rouse stated], “We have always envisaged bringing into being the coordinating leadership, on a continuing basis, to overlook the quality of life of the city; assert entrepreneurial initiative to bring into being new institutions as required; encourage existing institutions to spread their services to areas not covered or avoid unnecessary duplications”.

[In] 1971, the Foundation awarded its first grant to the Association of Community Services of Howard County to “explore human services needs and possible approaches.”

http://cfhoco.org/about-cfhoco/history/ Continue reading How government and nonprofit services came to be in HoCo