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College Park's About to Explode. Here's Why.

Today, WMATA is releasing an RFP for a six-acre parcel right outside the College Park Metro station, a golden opportunity for any developer. It’s not the first time the parcel has been available for development, but 2015 might finally be the right time.

WMATA director of real estate Stan Wall estimates that the parcel could be developed for 500 to 600 units, an office or hotel with ground-floor retail. Where currently sits a surface parking lot and bus loop, the six acres has the potential to completely transform the area. “I think it’s our new frontier,” says College Park director of planning and economic development Terry Schum. Across Paint Branch Parkway, Prince George’s County also owns a 2.6-acre surface parking lot it’s putting out to bid today. The two parcels combined are huge steps forward after multiple setbacks to get anything done.

College Park is somewhat of an anomaly in the DC region. The city is home to the University of Maryland, which holds 27,000 undergrads, 10,000 graduate students, and 17,000 faculty and staff at last count (and where your DC reporter is a recent grad). It has a Metro stop on the Green line, and, until recently, has been left behind the TOD, mixed-use development trend. The area right outside the Metro station is barren of development, home to auto repair shops and surface parking lots. 

This is at least the fourth time the parcel (above) has been put out to bid. In the mid-1990s, the property was put out to bid twice, but a “lack of cohesive vision for the site” by WMATA and an inability to get a deal done with a developer hamstrung the process, Stan says. Two years ago, it was put out to bid again, and only one developer bit. A deal was never struck. “We were a bit surprised that we didn’t get as much of a response,” Stan says. But with (an admittedly stripped down) Purple Line having recently been approved by Gov. Larry Hogan, an impending Whole Foods not too far away and the continued transformation of the Route 1 corridor, Stan believes the time is finally right to make a deal. Prince George's County, UMD and WMATA are co-hosting an event on July 22, from 1 to 4:30pm at Ritchie Coliseum to showcase the city as a destination for development.

Just a few blocks away, the biggest, most significant development in College Park in recent memory is going up. The Hotel at the University of Maryland, rendered above, developed by David Hillman and Southern Management, will be a $150M, 300-room, luxury four-star facility, with 43k SF of conference center space, a Kapnos Taverna and an Elizabeth Arden Red Door, the first in the county. It’s directly across Route 1 from UMD’s main entrance and plans to open in January 2017. “We know that there’s huge, pent-up demand for first-rate facilities of all kind in this county,” David tells Bisnow. “We thought we would take a shot at it.”

The area between the Metro, the incoming hotel and the university has been desperate for pedestrian-oriented development since 1993, when the Green Line opened. David says “there’s no larger mass of humanity” in Prince George’s County than the college, and it’s true. The 50,000 or so people who live and work and study on the campus have been largely cut off from its environs simply because of a lack of good housing and retail. The area has seen zoning changes to spur development, and Route 1 to the north of the university is already seeing explosive growth, like The Varsity and the University View above.

In the last five years, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of housing projects have been invested in Route 1, from the 517-bed University View II, finished in 2010, that now boasts a Sweetgreen on the ground floor, to The Landmark College Park, an 850-bed student housing project that'll be home to the first Target Express store in the region, opening this fall. Farther down Route 1, Monument Realty is building Monument Village (above), a 235-unit apartment project. Right next to the university, the former Knox Boxes are being transformed into Terrapin Row, a 445-unit, seven-building student housing project. It’s a sea change for a school that just six years ago saw students living miles away, simply because they couldn’t find a place closer, and there was no housing left on campus.

The Metro is still cut off from most of the activity. There are no apartments and no retail within a several-block radius of the Metro stop today. But no one knows PG County like David, who started his company there 15 years ago and has turned into the largest market rate apartment developer in the state. He believes College Park is where Silver Spring was 10 years ago. The cranes along Route 1 we snapped yesterday only prove his point. "College Park is maybe in the top of the third inning," he says. "It's an exciting time to be a developer in that area."