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87 affordable housing units expected in new Columbia cultural center; completion set for 2024

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Posted at 12:14 PM, Jan 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-06 12:14:17-05

COLUMBIA, Md. — The Howard County Council has finalized funding for a transformative first-class New Cultural Center (NCC) in Downtown Columbia.

This project has been in development for more than a decade and will finally be realized, building upon the vision of Jim Rouse. The NCC will serve as the County’s new hub for arts and culture, including a new home for the iconic Toby’s Dinner Theatre, engaging arts programming, and affordable housing units.

“We have worked for many years to get to this point and create a first-class art and culture center for Howard County that will spur people’s love of art and theater and will be accessible to all residents,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

The NCC will be the first of five low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) developments, which is a critical component of the Downtown Columbia affordable housing plan as reflected in the Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreement (DRRA) passed by the County Council in 2016. This funding from the Howard County Council allows the construction of the NCC to begin this Summer and be completed by the Fall of 2024.

"I'm ecstatic that this project is finally coming to fruition! The New Cultural Center will provide a wealth of resources for residents and will offer much needed affordable housing – all that is well over due,” said Councilmember Opel Jones.

The NCC will be located on the current site of Toby’s Dinner Theater, which was also contemplated in the Downtown Columbia Plan. The design includes a new 350-seat theater and commercial kitchen, two 300-seat blackbox theaters, a gallery, dance studios, and various classrooms/performing arts rooms.

Toby’s Dinner Theater will merge with the Columbia Center for the Theatrical Arts (CCTA) and rent the main theater, commercial kitchen, a dance studio and various classrooms. CCTA will also rent one of the blackbox theaters to serve as the new Children’s Theater in Howard County.

“I can’t believe it - I’m so excited,” said Toby Orenstein. “I want to thank everyone who worked so hard to make this possible. This theatre will be for everyone – for adults and kids, we won’t disappoint the people of Columbia.”

The County’s Department of Recreation & Parks (DRP) will use the additional blackbox theater, dance studio, and classrooms to enhance County-sponsored programs in arts and culture. The Howard County Arts Council will curate the gallery space.

“Now more than ever, Howard County needs high quality housing that is affordable to a broad range of residents so that individuals and families can build their lives from a stable base,” said Howard County Housing Commission Executive Director Peter Engel. “The COVID pandemic has hit low and moderate wage earners much harder than the rest of the population.”