When you think of Columbia, do you think of...tourism? Howard County has a Department of Tourism, of course, but what about Columbia? That is, do we have anything that would draw people here just to have fun?
The question is not, "what do we have here that would entice people to buy a home and live here?" Yes, we have great schools, and pools, parks, and pathways. And The Mall. But where do you take folks from out of town to show them a good time?
This was the topic of an online discussion last night on the "Celebrating Columbia" Facebook Group. It isn't the first time this has come up. One particular member of the group finds it simply unthinkable that Columbia doesn't have museums and other uniquely Columbian entertainment opportunities that would draw people here from out of town. Aside from Merriweather, that is.
His theory: relying on affluent people to come and buy houses here as a way to support the community won't last forever. Columbia will need to establish other sources of revenue to maintain itself. From his point of view, tourism is a no-brainer. Others are not so sure.
Many would love to see more fun things to do in town, both for the people who live here, and for entertaining out of town visitors. It was pretty much agreed that the go-to for visitors was going to Baltimore, Annapolis, or DC. But not everyone thought it was crucial for Columbia to jump on the tourism bandwagon. There's still strong support for appreciating Columbia as a sleepy, suburban home base conveniently located between other more exciting destinations.
Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods came up. Those familiar with the long-term plan for the park suggested that it offers the possibility of multiple destinations for community recreation as the park progresses. Some people thought the park was nothing more than the current project, the Chrysalis. The idea of the later phase of the park, which includes an arts village, holds out hope to those of us looking for more local performance spaces.
One man suggested that Columbia is too young as a city to have built up the kind of cultural institutions that this young man was looking for. He has a point there. It takes time for a community to move beyond the basics of adequate housing, schools, decent retail to support the needs of residents. But as we look at the next fifty years of our existence, should this be higher on our list of priorities?
Is it time to focus on creating and supporting institutions and businesses that will make Columbia more of a destination? Or do you think we're just fine as we are?