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Season May Seal Fate of Pavilion

By Mary Otto and Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page HO02

The Grammy-winning alternative rock band Maroon 5 will launch Merriweather Post Pavilion's 2005 concert season Saturday.

The season -- which will also feature Santana, Alison Krauss and Union Station and a three-day June Jazz Fest featuring dozens of noteworthy musicians and singers -- could prove a decisive one for the venerable outdoor amphitheater.

A committee of residents tours Merriweather Post Pavilion last year. (James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

General Growth Properties Inc., which acquired Merriweather when it bought Rouse Co. last year, has said for months that it wants to sell the pavilion, reportedly for $6 million, to someone who would downsize and enclose it. But on Tuesday, Dennis W. Miller, a General Growth vice president, said the company is now willing to see it remain a large open-air concert venue.

A community panel recommended last month that Merriweather essentially remain as it is and possibly become the focal point of a new performing arts village.

Seth Hurwitz, chairman of Bethesda-based IMP Productions Inc., which operates the pavilion, said last week that public sentiment and the panel's report should help save Merriweather.

"A year ago the Rouse Co. was claiming it was a failure. We all knew that wasn't true," Hurwitz said. "I'm just hoping the myths regarding Merriweather's viability have been laid to rest."

"We're doing fine. We're not losing money," he said. "I'm ready to sign up for the rest of my life."

A strong season again this year could bolster the panel's conclusion that Merriweather can continue to be successful as a regional concert venue. In recent years, it has faced competition from larger facilities such as Nissan Pavilion in Prince William County.

County officials, preservationists and developers have different ideas about what should happen to the wooded concert pavilion.

This week, County Executive James N. Robey agreed to a request from County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone (D-Southeast County) and council member Ken Ulman (D-West Columbia) to earmark $250,000 to study the future of downtown Columbia. That study is expected to include a discussion of the amphitheater, built in 1967 by developer James Rouse as the community's cultural centerpiece. The county also is considering buying Merriweather.

Meanwhile, General Growth wants to develop 51 acres next to Merriweather and has sued the county for rejecting a plan to build housing there. The company is also pressing the planning board to allow commercial development on the site, should the housing request, now on appeal in Howard Circuit Court, ultimately fall through. Last week, the county Planning Board conducted its final hearing on the company's plan to develop the site commercially. A public work session by the board is set for 7 p.m. May 26.

Meanwhile, Miller, of General Growth, was planning to meet privately Tuesday with Guzzone, Ulman and community representatives to discuss the company's efforts to develop a master plan for downtown Columbia. He said the company also expects to hold a public forum.

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