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'This Is The Beginning Of A New Industry': College Park Looks To Quantum Computing To Spark Office Growth

As College Park looks to grow its commercial sector and generate demand for office space planned around the University of Maryland's campus, one emerging technology industry is providing promise: quantum computing. 

PGEDC's Ebony Stocks, Brandywine CEO Gerard Sweeney and University of Maryland President Darryll Pines.

College Park startup IonQ reached a $2B deal in March that would make it the first quantum computing company to go public, and it is expected to complete its IPO later this month. Last week, IonQ and UMD announced a partnership to develop a new quantum computing lab that they said would be the first of its kind in the country. 

The university is spending $20M to build the lab, and it has previously invested $300M into quantum science to help advance the emerging sector. Leaders from the university and the county, speaking Wednesday at Bisnow's Future of Prince George's County event in College Park, said the city has the ability to become a national hub for quantum computing, potentially creating a new commercial real estate cluster around the campus. 

University of Maryland President Darryll Pines, who was dean of the university's engineering school before becoming president last year, said he sees the IonQ IPO and lab partnership as a major opportunity for College Park. 

"This is the beginning of a new industry; this is why you should care," Pines told the audience of around 175 commercial real estate professionals. "It's at the nascent stage right now, but the fact that it's sitting here in our backyard allows us to leverage it and allows us to build a quantum industry in this region."

Pines said College Park is particularly primed to benefit from this industry's growth because of its Discovery District, a 150-acre mixed-use district in between the campus and the Metro station that the university is partnering with private developers to build. The Discovery District welcomed a new 297-room hotel in 2017 and a WeWork coworking space in 2019, and it has several office, multifamily and retail projects in various stages of development. 

The latest project to move forward in the Discovery District is a 5-acre, $300M development from Brandywine Realty Trust. The university and its partner, Terrapin Development Co., selected Brandywine in March to build 550K SF of office, 250 multifamily units and retail. 

A rendering of the mixed-use project Brandywine plans to build in College Park's Discovery District.

Brandywine Realty Trust CEO Gerard Sweeney announced at Thursday's event that the project will be branded as Discovery Point, and he said he aims to start construction within 18 months. He said he thinks the project could support the city's emerging quantum computing sector. 

"It will be a combination of office, academic research, translational labs and quantum computing support, so really space that we'll be building to support the growth and ecosystem within the university," Sweeney said. 

Sweeney, whose Philadelphia-based company has completed similar projects around the University of Pennsylvania campus, compared the opportunity College Park has with quantum computing to the booming cell and gene therapy industry in Philadelphia. That industry was in its early stages a decade ago when Brandywine got involved, and Sweeney said because of U Penn's research leadership, Philadelphia now has 88 cell and gene therapy companies employing 56,000 people. 

"When we looked at Discovery Point, we saw the same opportunity here," he said. "The vision is what it can be, not what it is. Our job is to translate what it is and how it looks and make sure it's an attractive platform to be really a physical accelerator to the mission of the university and Prince George's County of job creation."

FSC First's Dawn Medley, Terrapin Development Co.'s Ken Ulman, Cybrary's Ralph Sita, COPT's Dean Lopez, Southern Management's Suzanne Hillman and Velocity Cos.' Brandon Bellamy.

Terrapin Development Co. President Ken Ulman, who previously served as Howard County Executive and unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor of Maryland before coming back to work on economic development around his alma mater, has an ambitious vision for College Park's tech industry. 

"When we think about places in this country that are truly thriving, especially with the tech economy, whether it's Silicon Valley or Austin or Boston or the Research Triangle, what do they have in common? They have universities in those communities that understand their role in commercializing technology and producing a workforce," Ulman said. 

"The University of Maryland hasn't always played that role," Ulman added. "We're now doing it. The first role is for UMD to reach its full mission and reach its potential to be able to be that full engine."

Ulman, in an email to Bisnow after the event, said he also worked with UMD to launch Quantum Start-up Foundry, an accelerator that offers space, resources and equipment to quantum computing companies that emerge out of the university or relocate to College Park. 

"Our focus is truly the ecosystem, from training students in quantum to providing the space and resources necessary to access world-class equipment," he said. "It is rare to be at the start of a truly new technology revolution, and when the opportunity emerged, you must seize it and that's what President Pines and the team are doing."

Corporate Office Properties Trust, in partnership with UMD, has built over 400K SF of office space in the Discovery District and has at least 1M SF more in the pipeline. COPT Senior Vice President Dean Lopez said the area has received strong leasing demand in the defense, cybersecurity and technology industries. 

"The Discovery District has really evolved and continues to evolve into its own micromarket, and the proximity to the university as a big part of that," Lopez said. "What we've found is companies and organizations that land themselves in the Discovery District, they don't want to leave, and if anything the challenge is keeping them there as they grow."

One of the companies that has grown in the Discovery District is Cybrary, which moved from Greenbelt to an 11K SF College Park space in 2019, and then last year expanded to a 26K SF space at COPT's new 4600 River Road building. Cybrary co-founder Ralph Sita said other jurisdictions including Virginia had tried to lure the company away, but it decided to stay in College Park because of the university. 

"I've seen the growth, and I've seen what's happening at the University of Maryland, and I knew for Cybrary to attract great talent it was germane to our mission that we were associated with one of the best institutions in the country," Sita said. 

RISE Investment Partners' Brad Frome and Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.

Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said the county has worked with the university and IonQ on the quantum computing lab partnership, and she sees it as a growth engine that could be replicated in other parts of the county. 

"The Discovery District is emblematic of what we see all across the county," Alsobrooks said. "There are so many amazing things about the opportunities that are here ... IonQ is just one example, but there are so many other things that are right now literally growing as a result of the relationship, so it only gets better from here."