A Maryland landmark by noted architect Frank Gehry officially changed hands today when a private developer transferred ownership of Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion to a community arts organization.
More than 100 people gathered under the roof of the concert venue as representatives of the Howard Hughes Corp., the master developer of Downtown Columbia, presented a symbolic key to the head of the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, the new owner.
“With this key, I transfer to you the ownership of Merriweather Post Pavilion,” said Greg Fitchitt, vice president of development for the Howard Hughes Corporation, to Ian Kennedy, executive director of the arts commission.
Kennedy in turn presented a gift to Howard Hughes executives – pieces from the former stage of the concert pavilion, which is undergoing a $19 million renovation.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said the county has been working since 2010 to gain control of Merriweather Post Pavilion, which was built by the Rouse Company as one of the first major buildings in the “new town” of Columbia and will turn 50 years old in 2017.
“Merriweather Post Pavilion has been the jewel of Columbia, and now we have the comfort of knowing that it will shine bright for future generations,” Kittleman said.
“The stage for the next 50 years of Columbia is being set,” said Howard County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty. “Each and every one of us has an opportunity to imagine, to share and to get involved.”
The pavilion is one of four buildings in Columbia associated with the noted architect Frank Gehry, who is based in California now but had an office in Maryland in the 1960s. Last week, Gehry returned to the East Coast to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
The pavilion’s renovations have been designed to help it compete with newer concert facilities in the region without losing its original, open-air character. Visitors today saw a new stage house and other improvements. Next year, contractors will raise the roof over the seats, providing better sight lines to the stage for those seated in the lawn beyond the fixed seats. JP2 Architects of Baltimore is the lead designer.
The pavilion upgrade is one of many projects in the works as part of the Downtown Columbia Plan, a 30-year blueprint to bring a vibrant, walkable center to the master-planned community founded in the 1960s by developer James Rouse.
The Merriweather District section of the plan is a mixed-use development with up to five million square feet of space surrounding the concert pavilion. The first phase will include permanent parking for Merriweather, one million square feet of commercial office space, 750 apartments and 250,000 square feet of street level retail space.
On Nov. 9, the Howard County Council approved $90 million in funding for public infrastructure improvements in the Merriweather District. The county council also approved legislation that will deliver 900 units of affordable housing within the 391 acres earmarked for redevelopment.
The affordable housing plan is the product of collaboration between Howard County, the Howard County Housing Commission, the Columbia Downtown Housing Corporation and the Howard Hughes Corporation. To accommodate the affordable housing, 744 units of new residential density were added to the 5,500 residential units already approved as part of the Downtown Columbia Plan.
This story has been updated to reflect the correct amount of planned space to surround Merriweather Post Pavilion.
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