A New Era for Prince George's County
Five years ago, an event surrounding development in Prince George’s County would have been filled with damage control and desperate pleas for business. Yesterday at the University of Maryland, nearly 500 people watched as the county’s business and government leaders sang the praises of Prince George’s transformation.
The man in the middle of said transformation is county executive Rushern Baker. He took over an office that had been tarnished by scandal and injected it with energy and morality, posting an “open for business” sign outside his office. That hasn't been easy, but all signs point to massive growth and Rushern is supremely confident. "I guarantee you that the momentum you’ll see here in Prince George’s County will continue," he told the crowd for our United Bank Neighborhood Series event.
In the last four years, the county has gained more than $1B in payroll, Economic Development Corp CEO Jim Coleman told the crowd when he introduced Rushern, a friend since the two shared a dorm at Howard University four decades ago. Thanks to the executive, the county’s stock is on the rise. “If you’re not investing in Prince George’s County, what you’ll say is ‘Damn. I wish I knew,’” Rushern told the crowd. “If you are investing in Prince George’s County, you’ll say ‘Damn. I was smart as hell.’”
Urban Atlantic president Vicki Davis is in the “smart as hell” group. Her JV with Forest City Washington at New Carrollton is for 49 acres of mixed-use development adjacent to a Metro stop. And we even got some news on that front out of the event.
WMATA real estate chief Andrew Scott announced that the Joint Development Agreement with Urban Atlantic and Forest City was signed this month, completing the process in five years, well ahead of some other WMATA projects. That means construction can begin, and Vicki is planning to move fast: she told Bisnow last week she plans to build one piece a year over the next 15 years. But it won’t be easy. “Mixed-use is still the most difficult to finance, but also the greatest value creation in real estate,” she says. Considering her development is on what’s currently a giant parking lot, there’s lots of value to add. “The real question is always how do you get the retailer to go first? The answer is, you don’t. You have to show some ‘there’ there.”
Taylor Chess, Justin Fishkin and Logan Gaskill already have a “there,” and they’re adding to it. Taylor is the newly minted president of development at Peterson Cos, the first person to hold that title in the company’s 50-year history. Justin is the chief strategy officer at Local Motors, which will be opening a 28k SF sales and demonstration facility at Peterson’s National Harbor, giving visitors a chance to design and buy revolutionary 3D-printed cars. Logan is director of HR for MGM National Harbor and in charge of hiring the 3,600 people the casino will employ when it opens in the second half of 2016. And Peterson is planning another 125k SF office building to capitalize on the placemaking it’s done so far. The most exciting part of this trio’s fireside chat? Justin says they’re hoping to build a 3D-printed, driverless shuttle to take visitors from Local Motors to MGM’s resort, which will have 15 shops and 12 restaurants, all high-end spots.
The high-end component is key for the county, because that’s been missing for decades. “Citizens feel a lot of resentment that some of the high-end retailers bypass the county,” says David Ianucci, the county’s economic development and planning lead. “It goes back 20 to 30 years and there’s tension that the retailers haven’t come here.” But progress is evident.
Greenberg Gibbons Commercial CEO Brian Gibbons developed the town centers that hold the county’s first-ever Wegmans and Harris Teeter (Cafritz Enterprises signed the first Whole Foods this year near College Park). “When we were first discussing with Wegmans, the brokerage community told me ‘you’re crazy,’” Brian says. “The mentality was Prince George’s County doesn’t support high-end retail…Prince George’s County has made a lot of progress in the last 10 years, but I think there’s a lot of work to be done to attract high-end retailers.” The county has been active at the ICSC conferences—when Rushern first took over, he had to go around and beg for meetings—but it’s still an uphill climb. Vicki’s solution? “Offer them a sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet deal.”
Speaking of sweet deals, UMD chief strategy officer and Margrave Strategies president Ken Ulman announced that university students will be able to ride to the five College Park stops on the Purple Line free, something WMATA hopes will spur interest in the five-acre College Park parcel it’s bidding (the deadline is November, for those interested). Ken, eschewing a jacket and tie for the event on his home turf, said the Purple Line and the massive Innovation District—30 acres of development anchored by Southern Management’s Hotel at UMD—will bring College Park up to snuff with the quality of its college. And yet, “I still have people saying ‘tell me about the office market,’” he says. “This university and its faculty and students are creating great companies every day. And we now have a strategy that focuses on keeping them here.” One seldom-reported detail of the four-diamond hotel: it'll have a 20k SF startup incubator on-site.
Maryland Transit Administration’s Jamie Kendrick gave one of the most important updates in the event: the Purple Line status report. Despite Gov. Larry Hogan’s slashing the budget, Jamie says Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have stepped up their funding and federal money is almost assured of coming in. The planned light rail line will now have to be less luxurious and construction will be more aggressive, but Purple is coming. “At the core of it, it’s the same project,” Jamie says.
And while everyone was talking mixed-use and TOD (what else is new?) Transwestern managing director Mark Glagola shined a light on an oft-overlooked sector of real estate where Prince George’s is thriving: industrial. “It’s one of the most popular markets in the country,” Mark says. “We’ve broken a lot of record prices recently.” Sitting on the other side of Brian, NAI Michael president Gary Michael talked about the prominence of development around Largo, where the new University of Maryland Medical System hospital will open before the end of the decade. NAI Michael just broke ground on 450 units near the hospital site, and Gary says he's “very bullish on the synergy created by the new hospital.”
As the hundreds of attendees sat patiently for two hours before they could partake in our open bar and cocktail hour, there simply wasn't time to discuss other projects like Konterra—and the FBI was only touched on for a few minutes. Panel moderator Len Lucchi of O’Malley, Miles, Nylen & Gilmore had to jump around to several different topics, but one theme was constant: thanks to the Baker administration, Prince George's County has a brighter outlook than maybe at any point in its history. "The county is absolutely poised for explosive growth over the next 15 years," Vicki says. "The critical element is government leadership."