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Long-Awaited Purple Line Breaks Ground As Developments Move Forward Along Route

With the long-awaited Purple Line breaking ground Monday, developers planing major projects along the line's route praised it as a critical east-to-west connection for suburban Maryland, and local officials hope it can spur more investment in underserved areas. 

Purple Line Groundbreaking
Rep. Anthony Brown, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Gov. Larry Hogan, Md. Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, County Executives Rushern Baker and Ike Leggett

Federal, state and local officials gathered in Hyattsville to celebrate the groundbreaking. The 16-mile rail line will have 21 stops from Bethesda to New Carrollton and is expected to open in 2022. 

Construction had been scheduled to begin last year, but a federal judge dealt the project repeated setbacks as he called for further study on the project following a lawsuit from opponents. Then, in July, an appeals court granted a stay of the judge's ruling, reinstating its federal approval and allowing the project to begin as the higher court considers the legal arguments. 

That case has yet to be settled, but last week the federal government committed to a full $900M funding agreement, giving Maryland the ability to start construction on the transit project. 

Purple Line groundbreaking warehouse
Gov. Larry Hogan in an excavator tearing down a warehouse to make way for the new Purple Line operations center

Gov. Larry Hogan, speaking with reporters after the groundbreaking, dismissed the idea that the project could face any more legal challenges.

"There aren’t really any more legal hurdles," Hogan said. "We’re starting construction today."  

And Hogan quickly made good on that promise, climbing into an excavator and helping tear down a warehouse on the Hyattsville site that will become the Purple Line operations center. 

The project is expected to cost $5.6B to build and operate over the 36-year contract with a collection of private companies called Purple Line Transit Partners. The state government, plus Montgomery County and Prince George's County, also pitched in funds for the project.

Speaking at the groundbreaking, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the Purple Line is the nation's largest-ever public-private partnership for a transit project and touted it as a model that could be replicated for infrastructure efforts across the country. 

New Carrollton development
A rendering of Urban Atlantic's planned development around the New Carrollton Metro station

As construction on the Purple Line gets underway, real estate developers are moving forward with major projects near many of the future stations. 

On a 71-acre site around the New Carrollton station at the line's eastern terminus, Urban Atlantic and Forest City have plans for a 2.7M SF mixed-use development. The developers signed Kaiser Permanente to open a 176K SF facility as the development's first office tenant. Urban Atlantic President Vicki Davis said that deal closed Monday and construction is ready to begin this week, with an official groundbreaking ceremony expected in September.

Davis said the developers hope to break ground next year on the project's second phase, a multifamily building adjacent to the Kaiser facility. The full development is planned to include 1.3M SF of residential, 1.1M SF of office, 150K SF of retail and a hotel. Davis said it will be built over a roughly 10-year period, with one or two buildings going up each year. 

The site is already well-connected, with the Metro, MARC and Amtrak trains providing access to D.C., Baltimore and beyond, but Davis sees the Purple Line as an important addition that will link New Carrollton with other suburban Maryland hubs. The University of Maryland, for example, sits just seven miles and a 20-minute drive away, but Metro riders are forced to take a long ride through downtown D.C. and switch trains to travel between the two. 

“The connection with the University of Maryland has the ability to have a tremendous impact,” Davis said. “It will ease the commute and the congestion for people who could live at New Carrollton and study at the university, or conversely live and study at the university and work at New Carrollton.”

The Hotel UMD Southern Management Corporation College Park
A rendering of the $150M Hotel at UMD, set to open in September

College Park has plenty of its own development in the works along the Purple Line route too. Next month, the $150M Hotel at UMD will open near the future East Campus Purple Line stop. Two large residential developments from Ronald D. Paul Cos. and Gilbane are in the planning stages near College Park's existing Green Line station, which will also connect with a future Purple Line station. Just west of College Park, Cafritz Enterprises' Whole Foods-anchored Riverdale Park Station opened this spring next to a future Purple Line stop. 

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, who is running to replace Hogan as governor, said the addition of the Purple Line will expand College Park's development, and he hopes it will also bring more investment to Langley Park. The lower-income community to the west of College Park will have a Purple Line station at the intersection of Riggs Road and University Boulevard.

“It’s going to help us revitalize Langley Park, help us create some synergies and opportunities there and make sure we’re providing not only quality housing, but also retail and mixed-use development,” Baker told Bisnow after the groundbreaking. “That can happen now.”  

Rendering of Carr Properties planned redevelopment of the Apex Building in Bethesda
Rendering of Carr Properties' planned redevelopment of 7272 Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda

The Purple Line route continues west through Silver Spring, which has plenty of development in its pipeline, and ends with the western terminus in Downtown Bethesda

Carr Properties recently began work on its Apex Building development, which will have 460 residential units, 360K SF of office, 15K SF of retail and a public plaza sitting above the future Bethesda Purple Line station. Carr Properties CEO Oliver Carr III told Bisnow in May that the Purple Line becoming reality would greatly benefit the project, but that they were moving forward anyway as the rail line remained in limbo.

One block from Carr's site, JBG Smith began work last month on the 287K SF office building that will become its future HQ

On the other side of Wisconsin Avenue, StonebridgeCarras yesterday unveiled plans for a $300M mixed-use development that will feature a 390K SF office building and a 225-room hotel. StonebridgeCarras principal Doug Firstenberg called the Purple Line an important project for the area because it will connect suburban Maryland's major urban centers. 

“Commuting east to west in Montgomery County is difficult,” Firstenberg said. “To be able to go to Silver Spring and not have to go through downtown is definitely going to enhance Bethesda and further solidify it as a transit node people want to look at.”