At least part of the Columbia shopping center destroyed in an August natural gas explosion is set to be demolished starting next month, according to the building’s owner.

The gas explosion, which officials at the time said originated with an 8- to 10-foot crack in the business center’s parking lot, caused extensive blast damage to the 22 businesses in the Lakeside Office building in the 8800 block of Stanford Boulevard.

Pending permitting, demolition is set to start in December, said Roger Holland of Holland Properties, which owns the building. Baltimore Gas and Electric has not completed its investigation into the cause of the explosion.

The December timeline was not a surprise to Suzanne Delica, owner of consignment store Clothes Mentor and one of the tenants. Delica, an engineer by trade, envisioned that it would take months, if not a year, to rebuild.

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Clothes Mentor was on the verge of its second anniversary when the explosion happened, and a temporary location is not conducive to business, she said.

Now, Delica must decide whether to wait it out or find a new home for her store.

“We loved where we were, and that would be the best thing for us, to go back to that unit,” she said. “I want to continue that momentum, before customers move on to something else. I just need to know what’s happening so I can make the best business decisions.”

She added: “For me personally, I expected it to be a very lengthy process. I want to know what that timeline looks like after December.”

Since the explosion the morning of Aug. 25, communication from both the property owners and BGE has been described by some tenants as “limited” and “pretty infrequent.”

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Kelly Drake, co-founder and director of Anxiety Treatment Center of Maryland, said the December demolition plan was speculated on among tenants but was never formally communicated.

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For Drake, the explosion was a “total loss.” Her office was on the second floor of the building, right in front of where the gas line was leaking.

“I would think that they would communicate that to us because of [the] very sensitive files that are in the building,” she said. “It has been a personal and professional nightmare.”

On Nov. 1, she was notified that she would not be able to go back in to collect those items; Drake and her colleagues will have to rebuild from scratch.

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Drew Walston, manager of Pub Dog, at the far end of the shopping center from the explosion, said he was able to go into the restaurant days afterward.

“Early on, they saw no danger in letting us in. Our space is the furthest from the [epicenter],” he said. “We cleared out much of our belongings in the beginning of the process.”

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Like Clothes Mentor, Pub Dog has not moved to a temporary location. Walston said a suitable location hasn’t been found.

While they wait for communication on next steps, some tenants have joined an email group that formed about a month after the explosion. Drake cautioned that the group does not include everyone in the building as they’ve had some trouble tracking down all the tenants.

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“We try to share what we have with each other,” Drake said. “We’ve all been left to put the puzzle pieces together on our own.”

BGE completed the site work phase of the investigation Oct. 18, according to an email from BGE spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson. The next phase of the investigation, which is underway, will analyze equipment collected to determine the cause.

“Our initial inspection during that phase indicates that there was damage to our underground electric cables and damage to the gas line,” Jamerson wrote. “At this time we cannot say when the investigation will be completed.”

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According to data from the Howard County Economic Development Authority, 12 of the 22 business have been relocated, while the other 10 are making decisions based on what is available.

Delica said she hopes to hear more from both BGE and the landlord. She wants tenants to be involved and engaged in the process.

“This was a very devastating incident. A solution will not come overnight. In that regard I’ll try to be patient, but I do need to make a business decision,” she said. “Even if we do choose to move on, there’s a lot that goes into that.”

— Baltimore Sun

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