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How College Park Will Soon Become One Of The Country's Best College Towns

Ken Ulman sees College Park as a puzzle nearing completion. The pieces have been there for years, he says, but they are finally being put in the right places and in the next five years the full picture will take shape.

The former Howard County executive, who launched a consulting firm to assist with College Park's development after his unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 2014, will discuss the big things happening in the college town at Bisnow's Future of Prince George's County event July 19

How College Park Will Soon Become One Of The Country's Best College Towns

"In five years folks will look back at College Park and it will be spoken in the same breath of the great college towns in the country," says Ken, snapped above at a Bisnow event in September. "We've got all the makings of being that place. What we lacked was a comprehensive real estate strategy that would enable the university to truly develop that ecosystem of innovation."  

He pegs five years as the focal point for his vision because the Purple Line is slated to deliver and several big developments in College Park will open around that time, in addition to several projects delivering in the next couple of years.

One of the pieces of this puzzle, Ken tells Bisnow, is College Park's first co-working space, expected to open next spring. Ken says he plans to announce soon which co-working provider will be bringing the concept to the college town.

This fits into Ken's hopes of making College Park a hub for innovation. The University of Maryland has several organizations helping student-launched startups get off the ground, but the city doesn't have the infrastructure to keep those new companies in town, Ken says.

"We're working really hard to keep all of those companies, instead of them leaving College Park because they can't find the real estate to fit their needs, we're doing everything possible to have the right real estate and attention to detail so they have the option to stay and grow and thrive in College Park," Ken says.

Gilbane College Park Metro

Another main piece of Ken's strategy is to change the residential landscape in College Park from primarily student housing to a city where young professionals and professors want to live.

Over the next three years, more than 2,000 residential units not targeted at students will deliver. The most recently announced project (rendered above) will be 400 units adjacent to the College Park metro station developed by Gilbane.

Ken says WMATA put the bid out for this metro-adjacent site a couple of years ago and received no bids. After it put out a new RFP last July, Ken spoke at Bisnow's Future of Prince George's County event in September and touted the site's potential. He says Gilbane contacted him directly after the event expressing interest in the site and requesting a meeting. WMATA awarded Gilbane the bid last month and the parties signed a term sheet June 9.  

Ronald D. Paul Cos College Park Development River Road

Also near the Metro, Ronald D. Paul Cos is planning a 370-unit residential and retail community (rendered above). On the Quality Inn / Plato's diner site on Baltimore Avenue, Bozzuto is planning a 300-unit luxury apartment building with 120k SF of retail.

Just down the street, the massive mixed-use Riverdale Park Station is expected to open in the next year with 850 apartments, 119 townhouses, a 120-key hotel, an office building and 200k SF of retail anchored by the county's first Whole Foods.

With all of this investment pouring into the once-neglected city, planners predict an influx of demand for housing and office space. Ken says because all of the developments come from private investments, the market is saying that if you build it, the people will come.

Berkadia's Ted Hermes, who will also speak at Bisnow's Future of Prince George's County event, has been helping finance commercial developments in the county for 18 years and says he sees College Park as the largest hotbed of activity in the county, including National Harbor.

Not long ago, he says investors were cautious to put money into Prince George's County, but he says today they are much more comfortable. He credits the university's active outreach as helping foster the improved climate in College Park and the surrounding area. 

"I really think a lot of it has to do with what’s going on in College Park in the way that the university is now embracing the surrounding community," says Ted, a 1990 UMD alum. "When I went there, in some ways they were almost at odds with each other, the community didn’t work with university and vice versa, today it’s a much different picture."