As we're all jumping up and down like a bunch of extras out of "28 Days Later", or like the members of the CA Board of Directors when it's tapioca pudding night at the Board meeting, over the imminent 50th anniversary festivities for Columbia, it's fair to begin to have the conversation of what Columbia will look like when it his it's next great milestone. Which will be, what, 100? 75? 60? 51? At any rate, as much as Columbia beats its collective community chest over it's past, it needs to expend at least twice as much energy looking towards it's future. And tonight I offer two glimpses of that future. One a future certain; the other, not so much.
I am attending, and you should also attend, the opening of the Chrysalis Amphitheatre this coming Saturday. You can learn much, much more about it here. The Inner Arbor development is only the most independent, forward-thinking development to come to Columbia's downtown since, say, when the first expansion to Columbia Mall-- yes, the Sears wing-- was built. The opening of the Chrysalis (dare I say, the emergence from the Chrysalis?) will be something you can tell your kids about in a decade or so, when the entire Inner Arbor development is finished. You need to be there. So RSVP now!
The second thing-- funny I mention Sears. I've heard rumors that the Sears store is closing and that some entertainment venue, like a Dave and Buster's, is coming to the Mall? Is that true? Whether it is or not, it would seem evident that with the continuing redevelopment downtown, and especially with the establishment of retail space in the Crescent property, that the Mall is going to have to reinvent itself a little bit.
Enter, then-- this article. Now, the Columbia Mall is far from a dying suburban shopping mall. But, what does the future hold? Let's say, for example, that some of the anchors-- like a Macy's, Sears, Lord and Taylor, and/or JC Penney-- close. Let's say also, that some of the more lucrative, money-making stores at the Mall-- Apple Store, anyone?-- love to greener pastures, such as those in the Crescent? Now you have a mall in trouble. Now you have a Mall that's drifting.
And what rights that ship? Would Whole foods move across the street? If so, what then comes of the new space? Could a Trader Joe's open downtown? Possible, though definitely not a 1:1 tradeoff in terms of space. What about a grocer that doesn't currently exist in the county, or even in Maryland? A Dean & DeLuca? No idea. But no doubt some creative thinking would have to happen if the Mall were to suffer a retail exodus.
Of course, there is one other alternative-- the Mall could downsize or convert to mixed use. We've seen the Mall reconfigure itself once already this decade. What if one of it's wings-- say, the Sears wing from the food court to the current Sears store-- was removed? C'mon, the Starbucks and the carousel could be moved. Doing that could create more parking for-- what? Well, the construction of another Metropolitan directly across the street from the original is what! Another several hundred apartments and another couple thousand residents paying taxes.
We saw in the recent downtown redevelopment debate how fluid and changeable the face of downtown Columbia still is and still can be. In considering Columbia's future, it seems reasonable then to consider a number of possibilities. Even possibilities we may not like.
Let's be careful out there.