These days, I don’t know anyone outside of Texas that understands what is going on with the Howard Hughes Corporation. Born out of a bankruptcy settlement, the corporation exists as a monument to potential; vested in a few master-planned communities and a handful of underperforming malls ripe for redevelopment.
Shortly after forming the corporation, senior management has made a number of moves that indicate Howard Hughes intends to make the most of this potential; and sooner rather than later. Throughout the country, Howard Hughes has shown their intent to move projects forward.
Sadly, one member of Howard Hughes’ senior development team has been fired during this initial push. Wordbones, wrote a great piece on Greg Hamm last week. Greg Hamm oversaw operations here in Columbia, Maryland and did what I believe was a very good job of working with the community, local activists, and the Howard County Government as the Downtown Columbia zoning and General Plan amendments moved through the local legislative process. What makes his work all the more commendable is that he weathered an almost constant change in management above him at GGP. The man who hired him, Tom D’Alassandro IV, left GGP within a few months of Greg’s hire. Soon after, the GGP board of directors and senior leadership underwent many changes. It was only after exiting bankruptcy, and yet another round of leadership changes did the company fire Greg.
When the news broke that Greg was leaving, the newly formed Howard Hughes Corporation stated that they would find a replacement for Greg “within a month or two.” When I read that, I circled today on the calendar. It has now been two months.
The purpose of this blog post is not to inveigh against Howard Hughes about broken promises or failing to live up to their word. Rather, I suggest caution and provide the following analogy as they work through their selection process:
I look upon Howard Hughes Corporation’s Columbia dilemma as similar to an America’s Cup yacht race. A few years ago, Greg Hamm arrived here and put together a crew that successfully navigated through, and won, a Challenger’s Cup. Now, it is well within the rights of the yacht owner to remove the captain at any time, including after winning a Chellenger’s Cup. However, if such a move is made, the boat owner better bring in a new skipper that has already won a cup. Don’t bring in somebody that has won in Olympic Class racing or Open Ocean racing. Only a skipper that has already won the cup would be viewed to have a chance.
So I say to Howard Hughes, with respect, it has been two months. Bring in the new captain; and make sure this person has the requisite experience. Someone that has a resume long on greenfield single-family home development or office park development will not have the skills required to manage Columbia downtown development.