COLUMBIA, MD (August 27, 2018) – John E. DeWolf III, the visionary who has led the implementation of the Downtown Columbia Plan to revitalize the community, passed away Wednesday after a more than two-year battle with cancer. He was 63 years old. Despite his illness, DeWolf courageously continued to lead Downtown Columbia’s resurgence until a recent hospitalization.
DeWolf joined The Howard Hughes Corporation® (HHC) in 2011 and served as HHC’s Regional President of Columbia, heading up the multi-billion-dollar, 14 million square foot redevelopment transforming 391 acres into a thriving urban downtown where people live, work and play.
“John was an innovative thinker who not only understood the values of Howard County, but was able to incorporate these values into the redevelopment of Downtown Columbia,” said Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman. “He was a great partner with the county and the community and I am saddened that he will not be here to see the final results. We will miss him.”
The reimagining of Columbia’s 50-year urban core began with DeWolf’s respectful renovation of the Frank Gehry-designed, former Rouse Company headquarters with the recruitment of Whole Foods Market as the anchor tenant. This successful endeavor set the tone for merchandising strategies to follow and for the launch of other similarly bold initiatives.
“John embodied all that we stand for at Howard Hughes,” said David R. Weinreb, CEO of The Howard Hughes Corporation. “He had an intense passion for learning, a dynamic imagination and vision for all things impossible. We learned a great deal from him, from how to face challenges courageously and maintain a positive attitude regardless of the circumstances at hand. John fought vigilantly over the last several years while never wavering in his commitment to lead the region to dynamic growth. He will be sorely missed.”
“From the moment we first met, I immediately felt a strong connection to John, with his larger-than-life personality and deep yearning for curiosity,” said Grant Herlitz, President of The Howard Hughes Corporation. “John loved what he did, and he loved this company. Even while in the hospital, he was sharing his excitement about his work at Columbia with the nurses. It is at times like these when we truly understand the importance of family and the deep connections we are building together at Howard Hughes.”
Among the highlights of his tenure, DeWolf oversaw a partnership with regional apartment developer Kettler and the construction of The Metropolitan, the first new residential building in Columbia in over a decade and the first ground-up project under the Downtown Columbia Plan. The success of The Metropolitan helped establish Downtown Columbia as a meaningful destination, which has since attracted industry leaders such as Medstar Health, Pearson Education and most recently, cyber exposure company Tenable, to all select Downtown Columbia for their headquarters.
Of all his local accomplishments, DeWolf, an ardent music lover, was most proud of the large-scale renovation and transfer of ownership of the concert venue Merriweather Post Pavilion to the nonprofit Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission. Until his illness, he was a regular concertgoer and enjoyed inviting visitors to share in the experience.
DeWolf inherited the Downtown Columbia Plan just months after its unanimous passage by the Howard County Council, following five years of planning and public engagement. Drawn to Columbia’s history of planning achievement and the ideals of founder James W. Rouse, DeWolf focused his efforts on realizing a bold future for Downtown Columbia.
“John DeWolf was an inspirational leader,” said Greg Fitchitt, Senior Vice President for Development. “He loved construction and the whole building process energized him. He possessed an extraordinary vision and had great expectations for Downtown Columbia. John will be missed but not forgotten—his legacy will continue to serve as an inspiration for all of us on the Downtown Columbia team, and at The Howard Hughes Corporation.”
In 2016, DeWolf envisioned for colleagues what Columbia would be like in the decades ahead. “Most important,” he wrote, “the community should not be stagnant. New should be always on the horizon. Old and obsolete should not be allowed. Twenty years from now they should be working on 20 years from then!”
“As Chairman of Howard Hughes, I had the pleasure of seeing John at many board meetings and company occasions,” said Bill Ackman, Chairman of the Board for The Howard Hughes Corporation. “He was brilliant, the consummate gentleman and gentle man, who made an enormous contribution to our company. He was a superb strategist who had a remarkable way of dealing with the incredibly disparate constituencies that are involved in the planning and approval process in the communities in which he worked on our behalf. He was an important leader in the company, and a great example to all in how he lived and how he passed.”
A nearly 40-year veteran of retail and real estate development, DeWolf began his career as real estate counsel for The Pyramid Companies of Syracuse, New York. He next joined the Melville Corporation, now CVS. He then moved on to international retailer The Limited, where he started as in-house counsel and later became co-director of the retailer’s real estate department. During a peak year, the team completed over 700 new and existing store expansion projects for brands including Abercrombie & Finch, Bath & Body Works, Express, Lane Bryant, Learner, The Limited, Limited Too and Victoria’s Secret. While there, he also oversaw the initial development of Easton, a 1,000-acre mixed-use project in Ohio. DeWolf also served as Executive Vice President, Real Estate/Strategic Initiatives for New York & Company and held senior leadership roles with New England Development, Woolworth Corporation and The Disney Stores, Inc.
A graduate of Syracuse University, DeWolf earned his B.S. in 1977 and J.D. in 1979. He is survived by his loving wife of 40 years, Susan B. DeWolf; four children: Jennifer D. Farber (Leo A. Farber), Rebecca DeWolf (Mike MacGregor) John E. DeWolf IV and Melissa D. Kaufmann (Sam Kaufmann); and five grandchildren: Leo X. and Alessandra Farber, Holland and Edward (Teddy) MacGregor and James Kaufmann.