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Demolition begins at Columbia shopping center that exploded

Posted at 5:15 PM, Jan 14, 2020

COLUMBIA, Md (WMAR) — Neighbors said demolition started at 7 a.m. Tuesday but didn't last very long. A backhoe now sits partially inside the old Krav Maga Maryland building in Columbia, encircled in questions about the future of the Columbia shopping center that exploded over the summer.

“It really felt like the tangible evidence of the last 15 years of our efforts of trying to make people safer and improving their lives and helping them feel safer through the world just kind of went up in a flash,” said Krav Maga Maryland, Columbia location, director of operations Jeff Mount.

MORE: Shopping center in danger of complete collapse following Sunday morning explosion

After months of red tape, they were able to reopen just down the street on Black Friday and are working to rebuild their business.

“We have about 500 clients on a weekly basis that we teach and they're very loyal. Most of them have been with us for several years and we have about 35 employees that are depending upon operations here for their livelihood,” said Mount.

Mount said the road to recovering was very difficult.

“The property managers themselves initially did a great job. They were clearly in a scramble and they didn't have a clear plan for it. As the process developed however and the insurance and attorneys got a hold of things, the process slowed down a great deal and the communication slowed down a great deal,” said Mount.

MORE: Recovery begins after Columbia shopping center explosion displaces 22 businesses

Until yesterday, when his general manager got a call from Holland Properties Management that they were starting demolition. According to the permit filed and approved through Howard County in mid-December, they plan to demolish the 2-story portion of the Lakeside Office Building and leave the 1-story wing standing. Holland has not returned multiple requests from WMAR-2 News for a comment.

With uncertainty looming, Mount said they play to build out their new place with no intention of returning.

“The blue tape on the floor is the eventual layout,” said Mount. “There are locker rooms, shower areas, changing areas to be able to change into work out gear.”

Many of the other 21 businesses uprooted by the explosion are on standby, waiting to see if they can reopen this year.

“There's cafes, small grocery store, tailors, dry cleaners. There's all sorts of smaller operations that were literally mom and pop stores that I don't know what they are going to do,” said Mount.

MORE: Businesses look to relocate after explosion closed down Columbia shopping center

He said there hasn’t been a feeling of urgency from county officials to help them.

“From the county on a high level, various county politicians made big statements about how much support they would provide and I believe that those were given in good faith but on the low level bureaucracy, we didn’t really get the hearing that we needed to the permitting just to be able to conduct operations here took about 4-5 times a long as it has in the past,” said Mount.

The Howard County Economic Development Authority said they facilitated item recovery in the days immediately following the explosion, safety of the property permitting.

In a statement, the HCEDA said, “In the weeks that followed, HCEDA convened six major real estate brokers and property owners in the area to provide rapid leasing opportunities. Additionally HCEDA produced an insurance professional to confirm insurance coverage and identify gaps in coverage for the tenants.”

The HCEDA spokesman said as of December 12, 10 businesses had self-reported that they signed new leases.

“A number of tenants have decided that it is not in their best interest to reopen at this time. This decision has been reportedly made for a number of reasons, including: that a short-term lease is not in their best interest and/or they have multiple alternate location to which they have dispersed their employees and operations.”

BGE is still investigating the explosion. A representative said the site work phase has been completed where they found damage to the underground utilities including our electric cables and gas lines. The next phase of the investigation is underway and includes a thorough analysis of the equipment collected from the site to determine causation.