Tag Archives: downtowncolumbia

The Crescent development by the numbers

Rendering of proposed Crescent development

Rendering of proposed Crescent development in downtown Columbia. Click for high resolution version. Image © 2014 Howard Hughes Corporation; used with permission.

tl;dr: The Crescent development in downtown Columbia is going to be a (very) big deal.

As reported by Amanda Yeager in the Baltimore Sun, the Howard County Planning Board recently approved FDP-DC-Crescent-1, the final development plan for phase 1 of the Crescent neighborhood of downtown Columbia, a development of the Howard Hughes Corporation. Unfortunately due to family issues I was not able to attend the Planning Board meeting and see for myself the presentations of the plan. However I did find and review copies of the Department of Planning and Zoning staff report [PDF], the final development plan itself [PDF], and the accompanying neighborhood concept plan [PDF]. For anyone interested I here briefly review what’s going on with the development. (For additional background see my post from a year ago, “The Crescent development in downtown Columbia: Areas and phases”, although a lot of the information in that post is now out of date.)

In Howard County planning terminology a “final development plan” is not really the final plan; that role is filled by the “site development plan”. The final development plan contains proposed boundaries for phase 1 of the Crescent development, intended uses for the various parcels and associated square footages and building heights, and other information relevant to the plan. It does not contain detailed plans of the actual buildings to be built. However just the raw numbers themselves are interesting and informative. To quote the Baltimore Sun,

The approved outline proposes 2,300 residences; a 250-room hotel; 1.475 million square feet of office space; 313,000 square feet of retail and 225,000 square feet of civic and cultural uses spread throughout four development areas on the property.

Crescent neighborhood site composite lot and parcel map

A map of the parcels and lots comprising the parts of the Crescent neighborhood covered by FDP-DC-Crescent-1. Click for high-resolution version. Image taken from page 3 of FDP-DC-Crescent-1, “Final Development Plan, Downtown Columbia, Crescent Neighborhood Phase 1”.

The four development areas are known (rather unimaginatively) as Areas 1, 2, 3, and 4, with locations and proposed uses as follows:

  • Area 1 includes Parcels A and B on the map shown, in the northwest corner of the Crescent development near the intersection of Broken Land Parkway and Little Patuxent Parkway. It is intended for office use along with a hotel, with some retail and restaurant space.
  • Area 2 includes Parcel C on the map, south of Area 1 on the east side of Broken Land Parkway. It is intended for mixed office and residential uses, with some retail and restaurant space.
  • Area 3 includes Parcel D on the map, south of Merriweather Post Pavilion and north of Broken Land Parkway. It is intended as the main “downtown” of the Crescent development, with office and residential uses, a much larger allotment of retail and restaurant space, and cultural and community facilities.
  • Area 4 includes Parcel E on the map, east of Area 1 just south of Little Patuxent Parkway. It is intended primarily for office use, with a small amount of retail and restaurant space.

There is also a significant amount of space that will be left undeveloped , including Lots 1, 2, and 3 on the map shown. These will serve as natural open space for the project, and can be considered extensions of the western and southern portions of Symphony Woods.

The table below summarizes all of the uses proposed for Areas 1 through 4, including the associated square footage and related details (from page 1 of FDP-DC-Crescent-1).

Area Use Planned
Area 1 (Parcels A and B) Office 600,000 SF
  Retail/Restaurant 25,000 SF
  Hotel 250 rooms
Area 2 (Parcel C) Office 300,000 SF
  Retail/Restaurant 30,000 SF
  Residential 500 units
Area 3 (Parcel D) Office 400,000 SF
  Retail/Restaurant 252,000 SF
  Residential 1800 units
  Cultural/Community 225,000 SF
Area 4 (Parcel E) Office 175,000 SF
  Retail/Restaurant 6,500 SF
All areas    
  Office 1,475,000 SF
  Retail/Restaurant 313,500 SF
  Residential 2,714,000 SF
  Hotel 150,000 SF
  Cultural/Community 225,000 SF
  All uses 4,877,500 SF

The final development plan does not describe the exact nature of the 225,000 SF of “Cultural/Community” space in Area 3. However in the pre-submission meeting Howard Hughes representatives discussed building in Area 3 a new Central Branch library (100,000 SF), a conference center (50,000 SF), an aquatic center (50,000 SF), and an indoor concert hall (25,000 SF).

In the pre-submission meeting Howard Hughes representatives also discussed locating all 2,300 residential units in Area 3 along with the 250-room hotel; no office space was planned for Area 3. The final development plan moves the hotel from Area 3 into Area 1, moves 500 residential units from Area 3 to Area 2, and puts 400,000 SF of office space into Area 3.

One major omission in the final development plan (really, the major omission) is a detailed discussion of parking. The slides presented in the pre-submission meeting contained detailed information on the number of parking spaces to be provided in each area through either surface parking lots or parking garages (which would eventually replace all the surface lots). None of that is in the final development plan. Apparently the exact parking arrangements will be covered in the site development plans to be submitted for each area, including proposals for how to compensate for the loss of the current gravel lots used for events at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Overall the Crescent development will make a major impact on downtown Columbia and Howard County overall. One good comparison is to look at Reston, Virginia, the other major planned community in the Washington/Baltimore area, and Reston Town Center, which is currently undergoing its final commercial buildout within its 84-acre core. Based on the figures in the Reston Town Center marketing brochure [PDF] published by its developer, here’s how Reston Town Center compares to the planned Crescent neighborhood:

  Reston Town Center (Present and Planned) Crescent (Planned)
Total acreage 84 acres 68 acres
Office 2.017 million SF 1.475 million SF
Retail/Restaurant 424,077 SF 313,500 SF
Residential 1,998 units 2,300 units
Hotel 518 rooms 250 rooms
Cultural/Community Unknown 225,000 SF
Parking Spaces 9,073 spaces TBD

When you factor in the office space just north of Little Patuxent Parkway (including 700,000 SF purchased by Howard Hughes Corporation from GGP) the downtown Columbia area will have roughly equivalent office space to Reston Town Center. When you add in the 1.438 million SF of leasable space at the Mall in Columbia the retail space will be significantly larger than in Reston Town Center. Finally, Reston Town Center has no equivalent to Merriweather Post Pavilion (or, for that matter, to the planned Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods). (However Reston Town Center does now have access to mass transit via the Metro Silver Line, as well as a much more vibrant office market in the surrounding area.)

As I noted in discussing the history of Howard County Council redistricting, on the tenth anniversary of Columbia former county commissioner and council member Charles Miller expressed regret that Columbia had ever been created. Now as Columbia approaches its 50th anniversary, current County Executive Allan Kittleman has promised that he will work to “[attract] large businesses to downtown Columbia so it may truly become the economic engine for our County”. The Crescent development will be the key to making that happen.

Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods plans approved

tl;dr: I testify in support of the plan for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods and the Planning Board approves it (note: correlation is not causation), Inner Arbor haters gonna hate, and Brad Canfield of Merriweather shocks me.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend and testify at the Howard County Planning Board meeting last night at which the Board unanimously approved site development plan SDP-14-073 [PDF] for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, the project otherwise known as the Inner Arbor plan. Here’s a lightly-edited copy of my testimony:

Good evening. I’m speaking in support of SDP-14-073. I previously submitted written testimony to the Board; tonight I want to comment some more on the plan.

I did not closely follow the Board’s consideration of the final development plan, but since then I’ve read the documents relating to its decision. I believe the Board made the right call in putting conditions on its approval of that plan. It’s just common sense: We need a park design that works with the natural landscape rather than against it, and one that’s well integrated with Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Almost a year ago I attended the pre-submission meeting for the Inner Arbor plan. At that time I saw a plan that retained elements present in the final development plan but also fully addressed the Board’s conditions. It featured an extensive pathway system that followed the lay of the land and minimized tree removal, an imaginative alternative to the existing Merriweather fence, and attractive and well-sited shared-use structures.

That design, with some refinements, is in the site development plan you’re considering tonight. It’s a very attractive design, a design that’s much better than I would have expected given the previous history of proposed projects for Symphony Woods.

The design in SDP-14-073 incorporates the elements of the final development plan except for the fountain, which the Inner Arbor Trust now proposes be built on the Merriweather property. I understand the reasons for siting the fountain there as part of the Merriweather/Symphony Woods integration. At the same time I understand why this change might disappoint people for whom constructing a fountain was the primary attraction of the original plan for Symphony Woods.

However I believe that the goal of this multi-year effort is not to put a fountain in Symphony Woods. The fountain is simply one part of an overall effort to provide a “unique cultural and community amenity” for downtown Columbia, to quote from the Board’s previous decision. I believe that SDP-14-073 together with the proposed Merriweather Post Pavilion enhancements will meet that goal. The Board challenged CA to meet the conditions associated with its approval of the final development plan, and create a great park for downtown Columbia. The Inner Arbor Trust has more than met that challenge. I strongly urge the Board to approve SDP-14-073. Thank you.

The Planning Board meeting on November 6 saw proponents of the plan slightly outnumbering opponents;1 in comparison, last night’s meeting was a landslide, with 16 people in favor and three people speaking in opposition. Of course this won’t put a rest to the controversy. In an earlier post I compared Inner Arbor opponents to “Obamacare” opponents in their exploitation of the issue as a way to stoke outrage among their base. I don’t expect the Planning Board’s decision will change that dynamic at all. As with the Affordable Care Act, I’m sure the opposition will continue to pursue any and all means to sabotage the development of Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, with yet more contrived legal arguments (thanks go to Bill Woodcock for highlighting the latest example), complaints about the process, accusations of defiling Jim Rouse’s legacy, and dire warnings of a “disaster of biblical proportions”. (I’m only half kidding about the last one; one person testifying last night used language that was almost that extreme.)

However the analogy to the Affordable Care Act fails in a major way: We’re not talking here about a complicated government program where it’s almost comically easy to raise fear, uncertainty, and doubt among those who haven’t closely followed the issue. It’s a park, with pictures (lots and lots of pictures [187MB PDF]). It’s pretty easy to understand, and you either like it or you don’t. As it happens, all of the members of the general public I’ve talked to (for example, at Wine in the Woods) have liked it a lot. Now that the plan is approved and construction on phase 1 can start, more people will be able to see for themselves what Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods is all about, and I think we’ll find that that experience is repeated.

Finally, before this next phase of the Inner Arbor project begins and Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods starts to take shape, some (I hope) last comments on what went on before. In my year of blogging about the Inner Arbor plan and the associated controversy I have been variously enlightened, delighted, amused, critical, and indignant. However I have never been shocked until last night, while listening to the testimony of Brad Canfield, director of operations at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Assuming I’m correctly recollecting his remarks, in talking about the integration of Merriweather and Symphony Woods he mentioned that Cy Paumier and the original design team had never taken the time to talk to people at Merriweather, except for one phone call a few months after the Columbia Association had rejected the original park design in favor of the Inner Arbor concept.

I quite honestly find that to be mind-boggling. On the one hand you have Merriweather Post Pavilion, the most well-known and best-loved feature of Columbia to the world at large, and a key element in making Howard County an attractive place for businesses and residents. (I believe it was Dick Story who last night noted that while other jurisdictions promoting economic development have universities to help them stand out from the crowd, Howard County has Merriweather.) On the other hand you have Symphony Woods, a largely under-used property whose main function over the past 40+ years has been to serve as a surrounding environment and gateway to Merriweather. If a design team working on a plan for Symphony Woods seemingly doesn’t show any interest whatsoever in working with the Merriweather Post Pavilion operators to figure out ways they could mutually enhance the combination of properties, that speaks volumes to me about that team’s insularity, misplaced priorities, and inability to create a design worthy of what downtown Columbia could become.

Thank goodness there were other people more in touch with the realities of present-day Columbia and Howard County, people who were willing to go out of their way to imagine a better future for Merriweather Post Pavilion and Symphony Woods, and did the work and took the risks to start us on a path to making that future a reality. Thank you, everyone, I’m excited to see where we go from here.


1. The numbers were a bit off because some people nominally listed as opposing the plan didn’t actually speak about the plan itself, but instead complained about various aspects of how the plan came to be (for example, that CA didn’t put the design out to competitive bid).

Chrysalis designer wins World Architecture News 21 for 21 award

Architectural rendering of the Chrysalis, exterior view

The Chrysalis in Symphony Woods / Merriweather Park in the Inner Arbor plan. (Click for high-resolution version.) Image © 2013 Inner Arbor Trust; used with permission.

Marc Fornes, the designer of the Chrysalis, the amphitheater planned for Symphony Woods as part of the Inner Arbor plan, and his firm THEVERYMANY are one of two winners of the 2014 WAN 21 for 21 award sponsored by World Architecture News, “an initiative aiming to highlight 21 architects who could be the leading lights of architecture in the 21st century”.

(This actually happened back in the spring, but I was only recently alerted to this when I was checking out who linked to my blog and saw a Rhino News blog post that mentioned the award. I’ve previously written about the Chrysalis, Fornes, and his firm THEVERYMANY as part of my ongoing coverage of the Inner Arbor plan; see in particular my initial post and my follow-up post discussing the structure of the Chrysalis in more detail.)

THEVERYMANY and 2014 co-winner sP+a (Sameep Padora + Associates) were selected from a total of 94 entries submitted, of which 42 were selected for more detailed consideration. The accompanying story notes that “As soon as Marc Fornes’ work was set on the table it was clear that a unanimous agreement [among the judges] was brewing” and quotes one of the architects judging the awards praising Fornes as “an absolute leader” and “the rising star of the 21st century”.

So what’s all the fuss about? The entry submitted by THEVERYMANY highlighted the Chrysalis, and discussed the firm as a “studio committed to the design and construction of prototypical architecture via custom computational methods”. The language of the submission is somewhat dry and abstract, so I’ll try to describe Fornes’s methods more informally:

Traditional architectural practice is based on architects conceiving of a structural form or set of forms in their minds, putting pen to paper to refine the design through drawings, and then using computers primarily as an aid to the rest of the process: creating more detailed drawings to nail down the final look of the structure and make sure everything will fit together as envisioned, doing structural analysis to see if the structure can handle loads, producing good-looking renderings for clients, and so on.

THEVERYMANY turns that process on its head: Don’t use the computer as a simple drawing tool, a substitute for pen and paper. Use it for what it’s truly capable of, including exploring the space of possible three-dimensional structures. More concretely: Start with sophisticated 3D modeling applications (like Rhino, the one Fornes uses). Extend them with powerful programming languages that can be used to drive the 3D modelers (Fornes uses Python as implemented in Rhino). Leverage applications that can take complex 3-dimensional surfaces and join them together into structural elements and then into complete structures (see for example RhinoNest). Add code that can analyze such structures for soundness, and that can produce instructions for computer-controlled machinery to create individual pieces that can then be assembled into the finished structure. Finally (and most importantly), find people like Fornes and his associates who have the knowledge, discipline, and aesthetic sensibility to incorporate these techniques into the heart of their architectural practice.

As the submission entry states, “The desire is not to generate models, nor installations, but rather 1:1 scale structures, prototypical architectures.” Fornes has been developing such prototypes for many years now, and “continually pushes constraints at larger scales”. The result of this work is the Chrysalis amphitheater as you see it here, a beautiful airy structure that looks as if it had emerged naturally from the earth. I hope it won’t be long before we see it in real life as part of Symphony Woods, replacing the temporary stage that’s been used this year during Wine in the Woods and other events. If all goes well it will be in place sometime next year, and Columbia can (as it did with Frank Gehry) once again boast of hosting the early work of an architect who seems destined for great things.

Renovating Merriweather Post Pavilion: The schedule

In this post I look into the current schedule for the proposed Merriweather Post Pavilion renovations. For background information see part 1 and part 2 of my discussion of the renovations themselves and their budgeted costs.

Recall again that the costs and dates for the renovations are laid out in Exhibits A and B of Amendment 2 to Amendment 12 [PDF] to Council Bill 24-2014. The proposed renovations are based on (but not identical to) the set of renovations described in the recent draft 2014 Ziger/Snead Merriweather Post Pavilion Physical Review Update [PDF], which updated the Ziger/Snead report included in the 2005 final report of the citizens advisory panel on Merriweather Post Pavilion [PDF].

Exhibit A of Amendment 2 to Amendment 12 divides the overall set of renovations into five phases (numbered I through V). Exhibit B assigns dates and durations to the activities associated with each phase (here numbered 1 through 5).1 Because of the way the Howard County planning and zoning process works, Phase 1 will be handled differently than Phases 2 through 5, as discussed below. The various renovation projects are divided between the phases as follows:

Phase 1. This phase contains various projects that are less disruptive and do not affect the main pavilion structure, including utility infrastructure work, the first subproject of concessions/restrooms renovation, and replacement of windows in the administration building. (Note that it’s not clear from Exhibit A exactly which concession facilities and restrooms will be affected by this phase.) Design work for Phase 1 begins this summer, with actual construction scheduled to begin February of 2015 and be completed by the end of June 2015.

Phase 2. This phase contains all of the work on the main pavilion structure, including replacing the seating, raising the main pavilion roof, adding two new roofs to cover the loge areas, and replacing the stagehouse (including widening the proscenium opening). This phase also sees the completion of subproject 1 of box office renovation. (Again it’s not clear from Exhibit A which box office will be renovated or replaced in this phase; however since the South/East box office is apparently in more need of work, it may be done first.) Finally, this phase also includes phase 1 of the site improvements, presumable on the west side of the property (since the second phase is for the east side). Design work for this and subsequent phases is slated to begin spring and summer of 2015 and be complete by the end of 2015. Construction for Phase 2 is scheduled for November 2016 through March 2017, during the off-season at Merriweather.

Phase 3. This phase completes the work on the site improvements, restrooms, concession facilities and box offices. Construction for Phase 3 is scheduled for November 2017 through March 2018.

Phase 4. This phase includes construction of the new dressing rooms and catering areas for performers, as well as a new stage. Since this latter project was not included in the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report it’s not clear exactly what it entails. This phase also includes some parking-related work, although again it was not included in the draft 2014 report. Construction for Phase 4 is scheduled for November 2018 through March 2019.

Phase 5. This phase includes only two small projects, putting a sprinkler system in the 9:32 Club and creating a new area for trash and recycling. It’s worth noting that even though these are small projects they are both called out specifically in Amendment 2 to Amendment 12, along with raising the main roof and bringing all facilities up to code. It’s possible that this was done in order to ensure that the called-out projects received particular priority and would not be put on the chopping block in the event of funding shortfalls or construction delays. Construction for phase 5 is scheduled for November 2019 through March 2020, with the latter date marking the “substantial completion” of all projects.

Starting construction is dependent on completion of Howard County’s review process for downtown Columbia revitalization [PDF]. This 16-step process requires the creation of a Final Development Plan (FDP) and a Site Development Plan (SDP), along with an Environmental Concept Plan (ECP). Despite its name, the FDP actually comes before the SDP, with the SDP containing much more detail than the FDP.2 Both the FDP and the SDP must be approved by the Howard County Planning Board before a building permit can be issued.

In the case of Merriweather renovations, per Exhibit B the planning process for the FDP is scheduled to run roughly from August 2014 through April 2015. Since the first step in the process is to hold a pre-submission community meeting prior to submitting the FDP to the Planning Board for review, the public should get a closer look at the overall renovation plans later this summer. Submission of the subsequent SDP should be about a year later, with the review process scheduled to run from August through December of 2015. Assuming the SDP is approved and the necessary building permit(s) issued, Phase 2 construction (including raising the main pavilion roof) could then begin in November 2016, after completion of the 2016 Merriweather season.

But that raises an interesting question: Phase 1 construction is supposed to start February 2015, before the SDP is even submitted, much less approved. How can that be? The answer, based on Exhibit B, is that there is apparently an existing SDP that can be put through a special “redline” review process, “used when minor modifications or revisions are required for active or inactive commercial site development plans”.3 As Exhibit B notes, beginning Phase 1 construction is dependent on the suggested modifications to the pre-existing SDP being approved; otherwise Phase 1 construction would have to be delayed until the Phase 2 date.

This concludes my review of the proposed Merriweather Post Pavilion renovations. Hopefully I’ll be posting again on this topic later this year when the first pre-submission community meeting is held.


1. Exhibit B refers to “ewks” and “emons”. I presume these terms refer to “estimated weeks” and “estimated months” respectively.

2. As an example, compare the FDP for the Warfield neighborhood [PDF] (next to the Mall in Columbia) with the SDP for Warfield neighborhood block W-1, parcels D-1 and D-2 [PDF]. The FDP contains descriptions of the blocks within the neighborhood (W-1, W-2, and W-5) and the parcels within the blocks, what types of buildings are planned to be built, number of units and square footage, and so on. The SDP goes beyond that to show the actual buildings planned to be constructed and the fine details of the surrounding roads, sidewalks, utilities, landscaping, and so on.

3. In searching development plans on the Howard County web site I found only one SDP from 1989 (SDP-89-222) that I thought might be relevant; however given the limited information on the site it’s impossible to tell for sure.

On the Inner Arbor plan, listen to the people, not the protestors

Last night I went to Columbia Association headquarters for the CA board meeting that had been scheduled on very short notice to discuss the Inner Arbor plan. Due to family commitments I had to leave before the main part of the meeting, but I was able to be there long enough to participate in the “resident speak-out” and say my piece:

Good evening. My name is Frank Hecker. I’m currently a resident of Ellicott City, and I’ve been a member of various Columbia Association programs. I’ve also blogged extensively about the Inner Arbor plan, and I’m a strong supporter of it. However I’m not here tonight to talk about my thoughts on the Inner Arbor plan; you can go to frankhecker.com if you want to read those. Instead I want to talk about other peoples’ opinions of the plan.

The weekend before last I spent Saturday afternoon at the Inner Arbor Trust tent at Wine in the Woods. I had the opportunity to talk to several dozen people about the Inner Arbor plan, many of them Columbia residents, some from elsewhere in Howard County, and a few from out of the area. Every person I talked to, without exception, was enthusiastic about the plan and eager to see it come to fruition. They liked the Chrysalis amphitheater and thought it would be in a great location, right where the Wine in the Woods Purple stage was located. They thought having food and restrooms available at the Butterfly was an excellent idea, and that the building itself was very beautiful. When I explained what the Picnic Table was for they got it instantly, and thought it would be a great place to hang out during Wine in the Woods or at other times. Finally, they even understood the purpose of the Caterpillar in providing an improved entrance to Merriweather and an alternative to the current fence, and thought it very attractive.

The lesson here is that while our attention has been distracted by the views of those who are vocal opponents of the Inner Arbor plan,  other Columbians and Howard County residents constitute a vast unheard supermajority who like the Inner Arbor plan and want to see it completed as soon as possible. I suggest those of you who are just listening to the small group of opponents go out and discover the depth of support that the Inner Arbor plan has from ordinary Columbians once you have their attention and they have a good chance to learn more about it. That concludes my remarks. Thank you for providing me the opportunity to speak tonight.

I saw many other supporters of the Inner Arbor plan there as well, several of whom also spoke. I hope to see others blogging about the meeting itself, as I’m curious as to what happened after I left.

Renovating Merriweather Post Pavilion: Projects and costs, part 2

I continue my look into why the Merriweather Post Pavilion renovations are necessary, exactly what is proposed to be done, and how much each set of projects will cost. I conclude with the remaining categories of projects, which consume the other half of the total renovation budget.

Recall from my last post that the costs and dates for the renovations are laid out in Exhibits A and B of Amendment 2 to Amendment 12 [PDF] to Council Bill 24-2014. The proposed renovations are based on (but not identical to) the set of renovations described in the recent draft 2014 Ziger/Snead Merriweather Post Pavilion Physical Review Update [PDF], which updated the Ziger/Snead report included in the 2005 final report of the citizens advisory panel on Merriweather Post Pavilion [PDF].

The remaining renovations in Exhibit A fall into the following general categories, in decreasing order by total cost; the budget figures listed do not include soft costs. Note that the exact scope and budget of the individual categories and projects may change based on further design work, and are all subject to Planning Board approval. I have tried to match the items in Exhibit A with the items A through P in the draft 2014 report; however in some cases the correspondence is not exact or or is unclear.

Merriweather Post Pavilion west loge area

West loge area at Merriweather Post Pavilion. “Concrete seating risers and masts to support West Loge tents. Note bridge over stormwater swale.” Image and original caption from the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report, page 37 of the PDF.

Construct permanent roofs for the loge areas. This category comprises a single Exhibit A line item (“New Loge Roofs”) budgeted at $1.9 million. The two loge areas (on the two sides of the main pavilion seating area) currently have temporary canvas tent roofs that are supported by steel masts and guy cables; according to the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report, in addition to being costly and time-consuming to set up the tents and take them down, the cables impede circulation and the masts obstruct views (pages 13-14 of the PDF).

The draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report recommended replacing these temporary tents with permanent roofs that would be visually compatible with the existing main pavilion roof, at an estimated cost of $1.7 million (item E, pages 19, 66, and 71 of the PDF). This estimate also includes putting in a sprinkler system and adding lighting and ceiling fans. Since the budgeted amount of $1.9 million is slightly more than this it’s possible that the plans may include seating on top of these roofs, as proposed by IMP and mentioned above.

Path to Merriweather south entrance

Path to Merriweather south entrance from the parking fields, showing relatively steep grade. Image from the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report, page 27 of the PDF.

General site improvements. This category includes two equal-size Exhibit A budget line items (“Site Improvements—Phase 1” and “Site Improvements—East Side”) totalling $1.2 million. The draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report referenced a number of problems with the overall Merriweather site, many related to site grades and resulting ADA compliance problems. For example, the report noted that the footpath from the south parking areas is “not handicapped accessible, and likely somewhat difficult to negotiate for even certain able bodied individuals” and that “[a]ccess to East Restrooms remains steep and non-ADA compliant” (page 11 and 53 of the PDF).

The draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report recommended re-grading of various portions of the site to reduce slopes and improve access, at an estimate cost of $0.7 million (item D, pages 19, 66, and 71 of the PDF). This amount is significantly less than the budgeted amount. It’s possible that the estimated cost in the draft 2014 report was too low (it was unchanged from the 2004 report) or that some additional work has been added.

Merriweather proscenium and stagehouse

Merriweather stage showing proscenium opening and stagehouse behind. Image from the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report, page 34 of PDF.

Widening the proscenium and replacing the stagehouse. This comprises a single Exhibit A budget line item (“Widen Proscenium and New Stage House”) of almost $0.9 million. According to the draft Ziger/Snead 2014 report the relatively short width (67 feet) of the proscenium opening for the stage causes obstructed sight lines and degraded sound for some seats in the loge area (pages 8 and 13-14 of the PDF). The stagehouse itself (i.e., the structure enclosing the stage) is also relatively small and lacks a grid for attaching stage equipment (page 8 of the PDF).

The draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report recommended both widening the proscenium opening by 15 feet, at an estimated cost of almost $0.4 million (item H, pages 19, 67, and 71 of the PDF), and raising the stagehouse roof 20 feet, adding a grid, and making other improvements, at an estimated cost of almost $1.3 million (item K, page 20, 67-68, and 71 of the PDF). At almost $1.7 million the estimated cost of these two projects is almost twice that budgeted. I therefore presume that the recommendations of the draft 2014 report have been scaled back somewhat.

Merriweather electrical transformer

Electrical transformer in Symphony Woods near Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Upgrade utilities. This comprises one Exhibit A budget line item (“Utility infrastructure Work”) at less than $0.9 million. The draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report noted that “Most of the original underground utilities serving Merriweather are believed to be either reaching an end to their practical life or are in need of modernizing for the sake of efficiency” (page 12 of the PDF). The draft 2014 report recommended replacing the electrical, water, and utilities serving the site, as well as installing new storm water management facilities and site lighting, at a total cost of $2.5 million (item H, pages 18, 65-66, and 71 in the PDF). That figure is significantly higher than the budget line item, so presumably either the plans are scaled back from what was recommended or the work is included under other budget items.

ADA parking lot at Merriweather Post Pavilion

“A total of 31 ADA parking spaces remain outside West Entrance gate.” Image and original caption from the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report, page 29 of the PDF.

Parking. This project is a single Exhibit A budget line item at almost $0.4 million. It is not clear exactly what this project entails. The draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report did not contain recommendations or estimated costs relating to parking, possibly because the Merriweather property itself contains almost no parking: only performer parking (e.g., for tour buses) is on pavilion property, while ADA parking and administration parking is on Columbia Association property (Symphony Woods), and general event parking is on Howard Hughes property (where the Crescent development will go) (pages 6 and 11 of the PDF).

The draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report recommended doubling the size of the ADA parking lot in order to meet ADA requirements (page 18 of the PDF). This may be what this Exhibit A budget line item is for, or it may be for something else entirely.

Merriweather 932 Club

Interior of the 932 Club at Merriweather Post Pavilion. “‘932 Club,’ an Assembly Occupancy, requires a seasonal food permit, and sprinklering is now advised.” Image and original caption from the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report, page 55 of the PDF.

Carry out other smaller renovation projects. This set of projects comprises three Exhibit A budget line items (“Admin Windows”, “Sprinklers in 932 Club”, and “New Trash/Recycling Area”) totalling less than $0.2 million. The historic farmhouse containing the Merriweather administrative offices has single-glazed windows that need to be replaced (draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report, page 15 of the PDF). The 932 Club is a small wood-framed lounge and performance space lacking a sprinkler system (page 16 of the PDF). The property does not currently have a single dedicated trash and recycling area.

The draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report included recommendations for projects to address these three areas, all with estimated costs less than $0.1 million (items J, N, and O respectively, pages 19-20, 67-68, and 71 of the PDF). The amounts for the corresponding budget line items are each slightly higher than the corresponding estimated costs in the draft 2014 report.

The Exhibit A budget also includes $125,000 for two other line items, preparation of the master plan and FDP processing. This expense, which is for the first year, presumably includes any expenses related to getting Howard County Planning Board approval of the Final Development Plan and Site Development Plan for all of the renovations to be carried out.

Finally, there are two recommended projects in the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report for which it’s unclear whether they are included or not in the Exhibit A budget. These are item L, “Replace Stage Electrical Panels And Distribution” (pages 20, 68, and 71 of the PDF) and item P, “Replace Fire Alarm System For Main Facility And Extend To New Addition” (pages 20, 69, and 71 of the PDF), each with an estimated cost of $0.3 million.

In my next post I’ll discuss the schedule for the renovations.

Renovating Merriweather Post Pavilion: Projects and costs, part 1

By now everyone knows that Merriweather Post Pavilion will be renovated and Howard County is helping to pay for it. In this post I dive a bit more into why the renovations are necessary, exactly what is proposed to be done, and how much each set of projects will cost. I start with the three largest categories of projects, which together will cost over $10 million, or over half the total renovation budget.

In his own blog post last week Tom Coale gave a good summary of how the renovations will be funded, but noted that he didn’t have access to the source documents. As it turns out, the costs and dates for the renovations are laid out in Exhibits A and B of Amendment 2 to Amendment 12 [PDF] to Council Bill 24-2014, the legislation by which the Howard County Council approved the fiscal year 2015 operating budget. (Howard County’s fiscal year 2015 begins July 1 of this year.) The proposed renovations are based on (but not identical to) the set of renovations described in the recent Merriweather Post Pavilion Physical Review Update (of which I have only a draft copy [PDF]) from Ziger/Snead (the Baltimore architectural firm hired to advise the citizens advisory panel). That document is in turn an update of the Ziger/Snead report included in the 2005 final report [PDF] of the citizens advisory panel on Merriweather Post Pavilion.

The original 2005 Ziger/Snead report recommended $19.5 million of Merriweather renovations, spread across 16 budget line items and five years.1 The draft 2014 Ziger/Snead update to the report has a new figure of $24.6 million for renovations, including some new items not in the 2005 report (see “Ballpark Pricing Cost Estimate”, page 71 of the PDF). Both estimates include 30% extra for “soft costs”, presumably including project overhead and other costs not accounted for in the base estimates. Exhibit A to Amendment 2 to Amendment 12 to CB24-2014 includes 19 budget line items for a total of $19.0 million, with only 20% allocated to soft costs.

The most costly renovations in Exhibit A fall into the following general categories, in decreasing order by total cost; the budget figures listed do not include soft costs. Note that the exact scope and budget of the individual categories and projects may change based on further design work, and are all subject to Planning Board approval. I have tried to match the items in Exhibit A with the items A through P in the draft 2014 report; however in some cases the correspondence is not exact or or is unclear.

Merriweather east restroom interior

Interior of east restroom at Merriweather Post Pavilion. “East Restrooms remain cramped and deteriorated.” Image and original caption from the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report, page 53 of the PDF.

Replace or renovate existing restrooms, concession stands, and box offices. The restroom and concession stand projects comprise three equal-size Exhibit A budget line items across three years (“Restroom/Concession A”, “B”, and “C”), for a total of $3.7 million, while the box office project comprises two equal-size budget line items across two years (“Box Office 1” and “2”), for a total of $0.9 million; the total budget for this category of improvements is $4.6 million.

There are currently five restroom facilities and five permanent (as opposed to seasonal) concession stands at Merriweather; in some cases a restroom and concession stand are co-located in a single building, while others are standalone. According to the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report only one building (“Stand Two”) contains up-to-date and fully code-compliant restrooms and concession stand (pages 15-16 of the PDF). Merriweather has two box offices (“East”/“South” and “West”); per the report the East/South box office suffers from water infiltration, and neither box office is easily accessible by car (page 15 of the PDF).

The draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report recommended totally replacing three of the restrooms and renovating two others that are located in historic buildings, at an estimated cost of $2.0 million (item B, pages 17, 65, and 71 of the PDF). The same report also proposed replacing and (in some cases) relocating the concession stands and box offices, at an estimated cost of $2.6 million (item H, pages 18, 67, and 71 of the PDF). The total for items B and H was $4.6 million, the same as the total of the corresponding budget line items in Exhibit A. I therefore presume that these renovations will be done pretty much as described in the draft 2014 report.

Merriweather Post Pavilion loge seating area and wall

Merriweather Post Pavilion loge area to the left, original seating area to the right. “Original concrete cheek wall between original and newer Loge seating obstructs ingress/egress.” Image and original caption from the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report, page 36 of the PDF.

Upgrade seating and raise/renovate the main pavilion roof. This category is budgeted in Exhibit A at either $3.0 million (“Seating & Raise Main Roof”) or $3.2 million, depending on whether the budget line item “Add: new roof” refers to the main roof or not. It combines two related projects: The first project will replace the concrete seating base in the main pavilion area and the two loge areas to each side, and replace all of the 4,650 seats in the three areas. Among other things, this will bring these areas into full ADA compliance (including expanding the number of handicapped accessible seats), improve circulation between the main seating area and the loge areas (by removing low concrete walls currently separating them), and provide permanent seating for the loge areas (replacing the current folding chairs). The cost for this project was estimated as $2.7 million in the draft 2014 report (item F, pages 19, 66, and 71 of the PDF).3

Merriweather Post Pavilion main roof

Merriweather Post Pavilion from northeast, showing main roof and seating area and west loge area beyond. Image from the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report, page 32 of the PDF.

The second project, to raise the main pavilion roof, was not included in the 2005 and 2014 Ziger/Snead reports, but was apparently part of a set of renovations proposed by IMP Productions, the operator for Merriweather Post Pavilion. The 2005 and 2014 reports recommended restoring the main roof, including replacing the roof surface and the vertical boards on the sides of the roof, at an estimated cost of approximately $440,000 (item M, pages 20, 68, and 71 of the PDF of the 2014 draft report). The idea of raising the main roof was suggested by IMP as a way to “improve sightlines from the Lawn and accommodate installation of V.I.P box seating and green roof lawn seating at the level of permanent roofs over the side Loges” (page 5 of the PDF).3 Whether it’s raised or not, the main roof still requires renovation, so this would presumably part of the project in any case.

Merriweather catering area and dressing trailers

Merriweather catering area (foreground) and dressing trailers (background). Image from the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report, page 42 of the PDF.

Replace the existing performer dressing rooms and catering areas. This category comprises one Exhibit A budget line item (“Dressing Room / Catering and New Stage”) budgeted at $2.7 million. Currently performer dressing rooms are housed in various temporary trailers scattered behind the pavilion. Per the draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report these are difficult to maintain (pages 14-15 of the PDF). There are also two catering decks, “essentially screened-in porches” that need to be brought into full compliance with relevant codes (page 15 of the PDF).

The draft 2014 Ziger/Snead report recommended constructing a new two-story 15,000-sf building to house performer dressing rooms, catering areas, and various other backstage functions, at an estimated cost of $4.0 million (item G, pages 19, 66-67, and 71 of the PDF). Since the budgeted amount of $2.7 million is significantly less than this I presume that the plans for this category of renovations have been scaled back from what is described in the draft 2014 report. In this regard note that the line item in Exhibit A also references a “New Stage”, something not included in the corresponding item G in the draft 2014 report, which would further reduce the amount to be spent on backstage improvements.

In the next post I’ll discuss the remaining categories of renovation projects and their costs.


1. There are actually two separate sets of projects and costs described in the 2005 report. The first set, on pages 11-13 of the Ziger/Snead “Physical Review” (pages 95-97 of the PDF), contains ten projects, designated A through J, totaling $15.4 million. The second set, on page 5 on the “Pro-Forma Operating Budget” (page 166 of the PDF), contains 16 budget line items totaling $19.5 million. The discrepancy is due to two factors: First, the operating budget contains two line items relating to the stagehouse roof, $1,500,000 and $225,000 respectively, that are not discussed in the physical review. Second, the operating budget includes additional amounts in an attempt to account for inflation over the course of the project. The executive summary of the overall report uses the operating budget figure of $19.5 million.

2. The figure of $2.6 million given for item F on page 19 of the PDF of the draft 2014 report is incorrect, since adding it to the costs of the other items on pages 18-20 produces a total that does not match the total on page 21 of the PDF. The figure of $2.7 million on page 71 of the PDF produces the correct total. Also, the description of item F on page 19 of the PDF lists 3,650 new seats to be installed. I presume this is a typo, as page 7 of the PDF of the report references a total of 4,650 seats, approximately 3,150 in the main area and approximately 1,500 in the two loge areas. Similarly, the description of item F on page 66 of the PDF lists 5,000 seats to be installed. Again, I presume this is a typo unless the plan is to remove the current general admission area near the stage (for which seven rows of seats were previously removed) and replace it with standard seating.

3. Since the proposal is to raise the main roof above the level of the side roofs to be constructed over the two loge areas, the tops of the side roofs could be used for additional seating if they were designed to support this. Some of this could be “lawn” seating if the side roofs were to be designed as “green” roofs, while some of it could be in the form of more conventional box seats.