Editor’s note: Creating interest in the suburbs again could depend on the ‘art of the arrival’


Merriweather Park (Mahan Rykiel Associates Inc., Cochran Studio and Martha Schwartz Partners)

The rallying cry in the suburbs was once “not in my backyard.”

Well, it seems, that crowd got its wish. There’s a whole new generation that has no interest in being car-bound and spending weekends grooming the perfect lawn.

That’s why I’ve taken an interest in a project underway in my own backyard, in Columbia, halfway between Washington and Baltimore.

A nonprofit group calling itself the Inner Arbor Trust hopes to take a largely undeveloped tract of trees near the Merriweather Post Pavilion and turn it into the kind of leafy regional destination that will make people want to hang out in this city in the suburbs. The trust plans to formally present its ideas to a Howard County government design panel on Feb. 26, the first step in a process that organizers hope will allow construction to begin in the fall.

The trust’s ideas are, um, different.

Earlier, the trust described plans for a “chrysalis” amphitheater, “butterfly” concession area and a landscaped “caterpillar” tube to act as a fence between the park and Merriweather. Now it is proposing to add a souped-up “Merriground” play area, as well as a series of acoustic elements at the four entrance points to the park. The so-called “Merriweather Horns” might even be synchronized to provide a collective chime once a day.

“They could sound at 6 p.m. and call an end to the work day and prepare you for something new,” said Michael McCall, president and chief executive of the Inner Arbor Trust.

The musical gateways are the creation of Maryland artist William Cochran, who grew up in nearby Clarksville and worked at the Merriweather concert hall as a teenager. Cochran is the artist behind the Community Bridge in Frederick, and he is working on a series of 16-foot tall sculptural paintings for Bethesda, and a glass tower titled “Wingspire” in Silver Spring.

Work on Merriweather Park could take five to seven years, depending on the pace of fundraising. The trust recently had its application to be a 501(c)3 charity approved by the Internal Revenue Service, which allows it to pursue grants and donations for a project that could cost more than $30 million.

McCall quickly dismisses the idea that the new acoustic elements might create a kind of Disney-esque Muzak: “It’s not like this will be an ‘It’s a Small World’ exhibit where there’s this song you can’t escape.”

He said the new elements are intended to represent the “art of arrival” and he praised Cochran’s work for creating music-making objects that seem “almost botanical.”

“We really want to set the tone up front,” he said.

Capital Business is teaming with the Northern Virginia Technology Council to find greater Washington’s most innovative companies, and we want you to vote on your favorite at capbiz.biz. Your ballot could make the difference in who wins at NVTC’s annual Destination Innovation event April 2.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.

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