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Getting it Done for All of Us

We sat down with the Columbia Association‘s Jane Dembner the other day to talk redevelopment, village center master plans and how CA is building relationships for the good of its stakeholders.  It is truly exciting to see everyone coming together on our community’s plan!  Thanks, Jane, for all your hard work and your vision.


Shifting Into High Gear

It looks like the new execs at the Howard Hughes Corporation have made some big changes here in Columbia.  We don’t know what to make of them yet.  All we know is that this project needs to keep moving forward.

From the comments in the Sun article, it looks like both our elected officials and the new Howard Hughes leadership understand that the momentum of the community’s plan is intensifying.

The new CEO of the corporation, David Weinreb, said, “We’re shifting into high gear now. This is the time to be making bold moves.”

County Executive Ken Ulman and members of the county council stressed the enforceability of the plan, regardless of land ownership.

“This points out exactly what we’ve been saying for the last three years,” Ulman said. “The plan is the plan. It does not depend on ownership. They can embrace the plan and build the downtown … or not. On the one hand, it feels like we’re starting over with new people, but we’ve got a plan to protect the interests of Columbia and county residents.”

County Councilwoman Courtney Watson was more blunt. “We don’t have to approve the rest of the process unless the company performs. I think we’re in the catbird’s seat,” she said.

Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty can take much credit for insisting that the legislation be written for any developer of downtown, not just General Growth Properties, who happened to be the developer at the time.  We should thank her for her foresight.

As David Weinreb said, it’s time to “shift into high gear.”  For over five years now, we’ve been engaged in a comprehensive planning and creative process.  Now, we’re looking forward to the process of building the vibrant, connected, and walkable downtown we’ve envisioned.

GGP Set to Emerge from Bankruptcy; Columbia Set to Move Forward

Jim Rouse, on the early days of Columbia: “One day I got a call from one of the members of our board who was a banker on Wall Street.  He said, ‘Are you in trouble in Columbia?’  I said, ‘Why, sure, we’re in trouble, we’re always in trouble.  What trouble is it that Wall Street is aware of?'”

Today, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper approved General Growth Properties’ reorganization, clearing it to emerge from bankruptcy sometime in the next couple of weeks.  The date we keep seeing is November 8, but it’s not set in stone.

GGP shareholders receive full recovery – rare in these cases.  A lawyer for the stockholders said, “This is a very happy day. It reflects a spectacular and quite brilliant result. … The management of the company and the board have done an absolutely superb job.”  (How often do you hear something like that in a bankruptcy case…?)

The reorganization plan splits GGP into two companies.  GGP itself remains the second-largest mall owner/operator in the country, while the smaller of the two companies will specialize in redevelopment and master planned communities like ours.  The Las Vegas-based Howard Hughes Corporation (THHC) is chaired by William (Bill) A. Ackman and also includes the South Street Seaport in Manhattan and Summerlin in Las Vegas.

Maybe we’re biased, but we think Columbia brings something special to the THHC portfolio.  The dream of Columbia – a planned community with an emphasis on socio-economic and racial diversity – was so unprecedented, so bold, 43 years ago, that it still amazes us that Jim Rouse was able to pull off what he did.  That rich and unique tradition of the very best community planning carries on today with the approaching comprehensive Smart Growth redevelopment of our downtown.

Let’s get to it!

Update on GGP

Analysts say a post-bankruptcy General Growth will have “significantly lower debt that is better capitalized and more focused. It’s going to be back to business as usual.”

Full Story (Baltimore Sun) here

Off the Hot Seat: “Spinco” comes to Columbia

Last year, General Growth Properties announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. This week, it announced its reorganization into two companies, the “New GGP” and another to-be-named company known in the interim as “Spinco.” (“Spinco” – or “spinoff company” – is a name sometimes used during reorganizations while the legal process is ongoing. For example, Motorola – which is in the process of breaking into two companies – has temporarily dubbed its spinoff company as “SpinCo”, too.)

In a nutshell, “New GGP” remains the U.S.’s second largest mall owner and will focus on the retail real estate business, while the spinoff company is left with little debt to focus exclusively on the master planned communities and mixed-use real estate development/redevelopment opportunities.

The spinoff company’s mission statement is “to be the preeminent U.S. developer of master planned communities and long-term mixed properties. Its projects will create inspiring developments for local communities and citizens and drive sustainable, long-term growth and value for all of Spinco’s stakeholders.”

This is great for Columbia. We have been taken on by a company whose mission is the business of planned communities. Under the former GGP, planned communities like ours were just one item in a very large portfolio. They’ve done a damn good job at it, but for Columbia, this new situation is even better.

Now that our community and government have locked in a plan, it’s nice to know we have a company that can deliver.

Nice Job Ken

Word is that County Exec. Ulman sent a letter up to Chicago yesterday asking them to keep Town Center together.  This is exactly the kind of leadership we need.  Instead of using the bankruptcy as an excuse to put our heads in the sand and delay, we adapt to the changing conditions and stay focused on the goal.

Columbia Largely Unaffected by GGP Bankruptcy Filing

General Growth Properties announced today that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, voluntarily seeking relief to reduce and restructure its debts. From all accounts all that this means is that GGP is taking the legal opportunity to restructure its loans, reduce corporate debt and establish a long-term capital structure – business as usual will continue and day-to-day operations will not be interrupted.

But, as mentioned in today’s Baltimore Sun article “[Gregg] Hamm said Columbia and other master plan General Growth communities were not included in the filing, except one in Nevada.” The Chapter 11 filing does not include Columbia.

So, that means that the redevelopment plans for Columbia are still on the table…let’s continue to look forward to work together to make it happen!

Other local companies have filed for Chapter 11 and are still functioning every day – companies like the Baltimore Sun and WR Grace. General Growth is not going anywhere and the company is still dedicated to the redevelopment of Columbia.

Interview With Greg Hamm Part II

Here is the 2nd part of our interview with Greg Hamm.  This video talks about the focus on attracting young professionals to the new downtown.

Also save Janaury 22 on your schedule.  This is the first Planning Board meeting and we’ll be having a huge rally before the event!

Columbia and Reston

GGP’s Greg Hamm was instrumental in the redevelopment of Reston, VA. He recently sat down with David Yungmann to discuss how Columbia can learn from their experiences as we inch closer to our own transformation. 

Warfield, Lakefront and Symphony Overlook

Here it is!  We’re still working on the sound, so thanks for your patience!

GGP and Sigaty Meeting

There’s lots of scary news out there about GGP these days.  The fact is that they have over a billion dollars of debt coming due in the next few weeks and the capital markets are so screwed up that extending or refinancing the debt might not be possible.  So, don’t be surprised if they file for bankruptcy protection.

BUT….  Anyone using this as a reason to delay the process of evaluating and approving this plan doesn’t get it.  First, this is a COMMUNITY plan and a COUNTY effort, regardless of who the developer(s) might be.  Howard County needs a new downtown and we can’t abandon that effort due to GGP issues that we can’t control.

Frankly, the prospect of the Columbia properties being sold off in pieces should create even MORE URGENCY to get them pulled together within a binding general plan.  Having parcels sold off one by one to be developed without regard to an overall plan would be terrible for the County.  So let’s use the GGP uncertainty as a reason to speed things up, not slow them down as the opposition will surely try to do.

Katie, Mac and I met with Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty today.  She is 100% behind getting a general plan in place sooner than later and agrees that the GGP issues create even more urgency.  She’s also been reaching out to young people (high school and college ages) trying to keep them informed about the plan.  We talked about the many ways we can help each other reach our respective audiences through vehicles such as our videos.  We’re fortunate to have such an impressive advocate of a new downtown on the County Council!

The Crescent and Merriweather

Our second video explores the plans for the area surrounding Merriweather Post Pavillion. We’d love to hear your comments.