A TOUCH OF CLARENDON FOR PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY?
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At age 82, developer Herschel Blumberg could be content with memories of luring Radio City Music Hall architect Edward DurrellStone in the early 50s to design three monumental office buildings at Adelphi Road and East West Highway in western Prince George's County. But Blumberg is not content. He now wants to bring jazzy urban streetscapes, restaurants, and nightlife to the area.
As the dynamics of P.G. County started changing in the late 90s and the consumer market showed signs of life, with local residents looking for places to play and shop, Blumberg hired top designer Parker/Rodriquez to do a new master plan and update the entire site. In 2000 he even changed its name from Prince George's Metro Center to University Town Center, taking advantage of the cachet of being less than a mile from the University of Maryland in College Park. His mission: Transform a conventional suburban office park into a 24/7 mixed use environment. A few years ago that was a novel idea, but today it’s part of a trend there: EYA is doing an upscale rowhouse project in Hyattsville, and the University is building a flashy M Square to house its own researchers and defense and tech related companies about a mile and a half away.
Blumberg is now well advanced in bringing concept to reality. He's already been putting in place residential, and plans to create 250,000 square feet of stores, theatres, restaurants, and other retail in the next year and a half.
His first step was a build-to-suit office building for the Center for Disease Control and new parking facilities. Next up was a 16-story Towers for 910 students from 11 area colleges and universities that opened in August. It's now 100% full with a waiting list. More upscale, just framed out, are 112 adjacent condos, half of which have already sold. One and two bedrooms start in the mid-$200's and six penthouses have already been snapped up for over $400k each—about 30-75% less than you'd pay downtown. 22 two-level lofts of 1000 to 2000 square feet each are due in the third quarter of 07; then a 14-screen multiplex in May, and a Lifestyle Safeway sometime in '08: fancy wood floors, sections of organic vegetables and cheeses, wide aisles with in-store Starbucks and cleaners. The planned finale is a central spine for the area called America's Boulevard in the fall of '08: a pedestrian friendly avenue with lush landscaping, seating, designer lighting, public square settings, sculpture pieces and a Reston Town Center-like ice skating rink. By the end, 10 restaurants such as Old Dominion Brewery (a 50 beer pub with sushi bar), Wow Wingery (top rated wings in region), and Kudo Coffee Beans will be in place, plus Blumberg's negotiating with a major hotel.
How'd Blumberg find himself in the middle of all this? When we talked with him the other day, he said he had been building houses in Montgomery County in the early 50s and a partner of his "told me he had a piece of ground and wanted to know if I wanted to develop it. My brother and I drove around it, and said sure. We bought the ground in 1952, but had to learn a lot more because we hadn't built office buildings." That's where Edward Durrell Stone (later to design the Kennedy Center) came in. "We flew around the country looking for someone imaginative but dignified. After Durrell did his plans, we went to park and planning commission for approval and they actually urged us to make the building bigger because they liked it so much."
You can coax memories out of him, but what he'd rather talk about is the future. He's already designing a Phase II, to begin within 60 days of the end of Phase I. Would he ever sell? "Make me an offer I can't refuse," he says, mentioning that speculation that it's worth more than a billion. Meanwhile, his wife and three children own it, and he's out there every day.