ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Ken Ulman unveiled today a plan that will accelerate much-needed renovations to Merriweather Post Pavilion. The plan will expand the scope of improvements to this iconic outdoor concert venue in the heart of Columbia, and immediately creates the opportunity for more community-based cultural programming at Merriweather. It leverages more than $30 million in arts and culture funding by expediting transfer of the venue to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission.
“This news means Merriweather Post Pavilion will get the upgrades it needs now, and will be part of the lifeblood of our community for decades to come,” Executive Ulman said. “A vibrant Merriweather with expanded programming will become the cultural core of Howard County, and is just what our community expects and deserves.”
Howard County, the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, and the Howard Hughes Corp. have entered into a memorandum of understanding that outlines a $19 million schedule of improvements to Merriweather over five years. Improvements include new seating and a raised main roof, new restrooms and concessions, new artist dressing rooms and a new stage.
Under the deal, Howard Hughes would finance the first half of the renovations, which are to begin at the conclusion of the current concert season. The second half would be financed through a loan made to the Howard Hughes Corp. by the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission.
Executive Ulman has identified funding that would provide a $10 million grant to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission. The administration introduced a budget amendment on Monday to facilitate the grant funding. The budget amendment has been co-sponsored by a majority of the Howard County Council, including Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty, who represents the district that includes the concert pavilion.
“It is important to reach agreement now and move forward with an improved Merriweather,” Councilperson Sigaty said. “The sooner renovations are completed, the sooner the pavilion will be available for more community use, and that will benefit all of Howard County.”
Improvements to Merriweather, which has been largely unchanged since it first opened in 1967, are spelled out in the Downtown Columbia Plan, a law adopted in 2010 which created a series of community improvements to be built by Columbia’s master developer along with the rights to build additional offices, stores and homes to add density to the downtown area.
Under that plan, Merriweather’s renovation timeline was tied to the pace of development. However, at the current pace, it has been estimated that the complete renovation of the pavilion may not be require until 2041. The law also calls for the transfer of Merriweather ownership to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission after renovations are complete, but at the current pace that transfer would not occur until 2050.
Executive Ulman said the schedule needed to change, because of declining conditions at Merriweather and the need to create a cultural center as Downtown Columbia redevelopment continues. The agreement to expedite renovations came after a new report highlighted the deteriorating condition of the venue, including health and safety issues.
“We can’t wait any longer,” Executive Ulman said. “Improvements to Merriweather have been delayed for too long. The time is now to act.”
“This is a great day for the arts in Howard County,” said Debbie Ellinghaus, chairperson of the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission. “Merriweather will receive the renovations it needs to be successful for the next fifty years, and artistic and cultural offerings for the community will be hosted in a world-class facility and supported by a new and dedicated revenue stream.”
Under the plan announced today, interest on the loan made by the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission to Howard Hughes would provide a revenue stream for cultural programming. The commission gains the right to approve renovation plans, and would receive all operating revenue after the transfer, which would now take place in 2019, at the conclusion of the five-year renovation schedule.
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