22 August 2007

What the Columbia Association can do about Downtown Columbia…Right Now

Well, its been a little while since we have heard “Columbia Association” and “Downtown Columbia” in the same breath. The City Fair is over and construction has started on the Plaza. I believe what CA could do to improve downtown Right Now is to start working on rehabilitating the pavilion that used to house outdoor Clydes. In my opinion, the continued abandonment of this prominent downtown structure is insane.
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For those of us that are old enough to remember, eating and drinking under the pavilion was a great summer activity. High above the lake, looking out on the trees and ducks swimming below, fried zucchini in hand; life was good. It was always fun. If there was a summer concert or a movie playing at the amphitheater, diners could enjoy the music, and because the seating was behind the speakers, could also enjoy conversation.

Currently, outdoor dining at Clydes are at a few tables in a corner, between the people tree and the Teachers Building. Don’t get me wrong, dining under the people tree is a great idea, but to sit at a table that has a view of a pavilion that has a view of the lake seems to be beyond irony.

Why are there not tables under the pavilion? It is my understanding that the Howard County Health Department shut down outdoor dining under the pavilion because…there are not enough bathrooms. Come to think of it, how did we evolve into the second largest city in Maryland, and not ever think of putting public restrooms in downtown?

Most other cities of comparable size have ample public facilities in their downtown area (and many smaller cities provide this basic service too). The County has been successful at maintaining bathrooms at most of the larger parks, why couldn’t Columbia Association provide similar service in downtown. They do maintain public bathrooms at Lake Elkhorn.
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Currently the only accommodation in downtown is the uh, “portable” convenience. I am certain that putting in public restrooms is not cheap, either from a construction or maintenance aspect, but I believe it is the type of “amenity” that many people would appreciate.

So I ask the CA Board to start moving on this. Refurbish the pavilion (and the boat docks below), put in the bathrooms, and bring back the fried zucchini.

8 comments:

wordbones said...

Bill,
The current condition of the docks and pavilion at the Town Center lakefront is nothing more than disgraceful. Planking on the walkway leading to the flag poles is warped in some places so badly it presents a tripping hazard, stones are missing from the retaining walls, and trash and weeds collect in the pockets of water closest to the shore. There is no excuse for having allowed it to deteriorate this far.
And don't get me started on the bathrooms. That enclosure for the porta potties was meant to be temporary, fifteen years ago!
-wb

Anonymous said...

How Columbia got to be Maryland's second largest "city" with no public bathrooms at the lakefront was by the Mall serving, then and now, as the de facto year-round downtown, it having plenty of publicly-accessible bathrooms.

Public bathrooms, especially in locations that are more secluded and that don't have onsite security or maintenance personnel, have their fair share of downsides, too, ranging from personal crime to vandalism to interactions better suited to private spaces. Port-a-pots, while less convenient than larger facilities, see far, far less of those kinds of problems. They serve their basic purpose and provide no cover for offenses or inviting spaces for other activities.

If CA were to put permanent restrooms at the lakefront, where do you suppose they would be placed?

As for the pavilion, the view from it is better than the tables under the People Tree, but public health taking precedence over ambiance does make sense.

Was there a grill, steamer, or other equipment under the pavilion, too? If so, it may have detracted somewhat from the fresh air and quiet overview of the lake thereunder. The tables have no such kitchen activity in close proximity, making conversations there easy and pleasant.

Another consideration making operating the pavilion less favorable than the tables was its greater distance from Clyde's main facilities, requiring additional time and staff. I think when vacation prime time hit and volume decreased, the pavilion then shut earlier in the summer, too, possibly as a result of these extra time and staff premiums.

B. Santos said...

Anon 00:16,

Huh? The Mall is the de facto year round downtown? I don’t think so. How many City Fair events were held at the Mall? Festival of the Arts events? How many concerts? How many movies under the stars? How many Columbia Council (aka CA Board of Directors) meetings?

The answer is: a big fat zero. Now we can wattle away the hours here waxing poetically about the Mall aspiring to be a de facto downtown, and at one time I suppose it kind of felt like a downtown, but that went away long ago, about the time that the Mall tree canopy was changed over from fichus to palm, and the center water fountain became a three dimensional billboard for Jim Coleman Land Rover.

Long ago, when Jim Rouse opened the Cherry Hill Mall (New Jersey, 1963) there was a strong link between the Mall and the community. Back then, there was an intention to make the Mall a community focal point (as a side note, the town Cherry Hill, New Jersey, actually renamed itself Cherry Hill, because of the Mall!).

In 2004, NPR’s Morning Edition did a profile on malls and spoke at length about malls being a suburban center or focal point (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4190121). Rouse biographer Josh Olsen is featured, and there is even a little bit of audio of Jim Rouse. In this piece, Josh goes on to talk about how malls were back then. People were allowed to politic and protest within the mall. The malls had not only shops, but Post Offices, libraries, and even churches.

This is a far cry from the Mall in Columbia today. It pretty much has one focus: shopping. So I must say Anon 00:16, with all due respect to your ideals and musings of a year round downtown: poppycock.

Getting back on subject: Your assertions about public bathrooms are somewhat misleading. Even the Bobby’s Pottys that currently reside in downtown Columbia require maintenance and by the way, there certainly is graffiti in the existing port-a-potties. They must be regularly cleaned and “serviced.” As for seclusion, the leader of CoFoCoDo and a prominent elder statesman of Howard County have both written letters to the editor in the local paper here stating the downtown Columbia is a vibrant, exciting place.

With respect to your statements about society’s darker side committing crime and perversion, I suppose I have a different view of the people that go to the lakefront. I believe that they are there to enjoy the surroundings, the scheduled entertainment, and the restaurants. Yes, I agree that actual bathrooms with running water would have to be monitored. Just as the bathrooms at Lake Elkhorn Park, Centennial Park and Cedar Lane Park are monitored and cleaned regularly. Since you brought it up, I will ask you, what are the statistics regarding criminal and deviant activity in these public restrooms. Is there any basis to your assertion, or are you propagating a stereotype to express your fear of society?

As to location, let me first defer to experts. The location of existing water, sewer, and power lines, code and permit requirements, and other intricacies of determining location are not known to me. However, as a first guess, I would suggest where the current port-o’ potties are located or possibly integrated into the pavilion/boathouse. Where would you put them? As I said, I think we should agree to leave the location up to the experts.

Your comment “As for the pavilion, the view from it is better than the tables under the People Tree, but public health taking precedence over ambiance does make sense.” Yes! I agree with you completely. I believe where we differ is my central point. I believe we should bring downtown into compliance with the health code rather than banish dining under the pavilion. It appears to me that you would be happier to curse the darkness rather than light a candle.

Yes, when the “outdoor Clydes” was in operation, a structure was put up for the summer that had a grill and other kitchen equipment. They also stocked a bar. Other than setup in the morning and breakdown in the evening, the outdoor operation relied little on the Clydes in the Teachers Building. Most support was in the form of ice, silverware, and bank money to make change.

I do not recall anyone ever complaining about the cooking. I suppose the smell of port-o-pot industrial deodorant (at best) or human waste (at worst) would be preferable to the smell of cooking for some.

As for now, I suppose we could start a marketing campaign: “Come to downtown Columbia, where the Next American City meets early 19th century plumbing.”

Anonymous said...

"How many City Fair events were held at the Mall? Festival of the Arts events? How many concerts? How many movies under the stars? How many Columbia Council (aka CA Board of Directors) meetings? ...The answer is: a big fat zero."

Zero is incorrect on multiple counts. While no "Festival of the Arts" or "Movies Under the Stars" have been held within the Mall, the Mall has hosted many art exhibits, many concerts, and many other public functions including Girl Scout sleepovers, senior citizens exercising in it in the morning before store hours during both sweltering summers and freezing winters outside, community special interest fairs, trade shows, flea markets (both inside and out), and group meetings. And while the Mall hasn't hosted a "City Fair" per se, it did host a predecessor to it, a Columbia birthday party, with food, music, and dancing. Having performed in some and participated in other of those events, I think that zero needs to be revised upward.

Interesting details on Malls elsewhere serving as community focal points, too. Like some institutions of some other communties, CA, our de facto municipal government, had for years a service center within the Mall, wisely providing locational convenience. Most banks in Town Center? The Mall. Where has the Salvation Army stood during the holidays? The Mall. Where do many teens just go to hang out in Town Center? The Mall. Where in Town Center do most of those eating out go for lunch? The Mall. I'm not refuting statements that vibrancy exists elsewhere in Town Center, too, but the Mall has had the highest amount of activity without doubt.

How were the assertions about public bathrooms misleading? I didn't say the potties were crime-free, describing them as having "far less problems". The graffiti you mention is a much smaller problem than more costly vandalism such as broken doors, plumbing, mirrors, lights, etc., or the personal offenses and other activities. For information related to issues with public restrooms, your best resources are probably the HCPD PIO, Rec and Parks, and property managers such as Village Center managers (who may or may not candidly discuss their sites' unique issues).

The boathouse location did come up in a conversation I had with Clyde's manager a few years ago, but its elevation could make it unfeasible and knowing one is dining on top of a restroom may detract from the pavilion's draw, too. If there were to be public restrooms at the lakefront, I'd prefer to see them be housed in existing structures, perhaps by leasing space from buildings. That would most likely prove much more costly than a CA-owned site, so a CA parcel somewhat near major activity locations, but not too close to either performance areas or the lakefront itself would most likely be a candidate. That leaves few options, especially when trying to site facilities close enough to operate the dining pavilion within restaurant code.

Well-packed picnic baskets and portable tables and chairs, however, still work just fine on the pavilion and add quite a bit more adventure to a lakefront outing.

Cosmos said...

I agree the pavilion is a great place to take a lunch and eat, especially when there is a concert!

Then lets play "pretend" like at Hometown, if you could have it your way what do you suggest as a renovation? Should this be a place where people can bring their lunch or dinner and eat outside? Or should this be a place, like yesteryear, and have a restaurant lease the location?

Anonymous said...

To picnic or be served in these pleasant outdoor surroundings?

I think an opportunity is being missed by Clyde's (and others), that being to offer take-out picnic baskets for either lunch or dinner. Bun Penny also comes to mind, being nearby and well equipped in both good eats and baskets.

That would provide the convenience of not having to prepare and bring the meal while lacking other conveniences such as alcohol and adhoc ordering of additional items during the meal.

Such picnic basket offerings have been very popular at Wolftrap, even allowing online ordering and pick-up onsite.
It would also allow those wanting to enjoy the lake's natural splendor to have more dining choices - a restaurant along it, just outside one of those restaurants, seated in the pavilion, or taking a basket to an even-closer-to-the lake and more private setting on the grass.

Maybe CA itself should consider such a service or partnering with local businesses to do so.

Anonymous said...

Like the King's Contrivance renovation groundbreaking photo, did anyone else notice the safety issue in this photo? More than two car lengths of fire lane is being blocked by the spot-a-pots, obstructing emergency service response to the adjacent building.

If those were cars, they would've been towed, but current code may not have considered dangers and penalties for parking a 40' row of outhouses in a fire lane. Sticking them in five of the parking spaces facing LPP would've been a wiser location.

bdsista said...

being one of those original columbians, (i.e. here before the mall), I remember when wilde lake and harpers choice were the only villages and the mall was the only place to get chinese food and the fine dining was in Wilde Lake, the Odessey where Clydes is now and Woodies restaurant. I do think the mall has become much less personal and when I want to go and eat, I go to the lakefront first.
As for the pavillion, I say put in tables and chairs; the requisite amount of porta johns to have the pavillion; then work out a takeout system with Clydes where they would perhaps have a "Pavillion Menu" of stuff to take out and you can get drinks, or you have the option of bringing your own food from the takeout of your choice or "gasp" actually cooking your own! I agree tha pavillion was really nice and also, if it wasn't controlled by Clydes, you would have to sit at tables and talk to people you don't know like at Wine in the Woods. Hey, getting to know your neighbors, sounds JUST like Columbia!