The Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo was supposed to be the savior, a shopping attraction that would bolster central Prince George’s County after the 2002 demolition of the arena where the Washington Bullets and Capitals once played.
Instead, the shopping center’s owners watched as the recession forced some of its biggest stores — Borders, Linens ’n Things, Circuit City — into bankruptcy or liquidation. And the Sideline, the restaurant of former Washington Redskins star LaVar Arrington, closed millions of dollars in debt.
A decade later, when the chance arose to secure a $645 million regional hospital campus, the owners of the complex were ready to make a deal so sweet that it would beat that of one of the Washington area’s biggest real estate titans.
On Thursday, the board of Dimensions Healthcare System, which oversees medical facilities owned by the county, voted unanimously to build a 259-bed hospital and medical campus adjacent to the shopping center.
County officials said the vote for Largo, which has the backing of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), was a significant step toward helping the county remedy two of its biggest struggles: providing quality health care to a population that suffers disproportionately from diabetes, hypertension and obesity, and attracting the kind of transit-oriented development that has long bypassed the county.
The project is pegged for 26 acres immediately east of the Boulevard at the Capital Centre, located adjacent to the Largo Town Center Metro station and just off the Capital Beltway north of Central Avenue in the Largo Town Center area.
The hospital, expected to open by 2017, will be operated by the University of Maryland Medical System and include a full-service medical and trauma center offering high-end specialities and general care, creating a more central destination for health services.
During his campaign for county executive, Baker promised that he would ink a hospital deal once elected. “Immediately after I won, I thought, ‘Dang, how am I going to do this?’ ” he said at a news conference after the vote.
But he said that health care had to be a top priority and that he appreciated having a County Council “that understood that we can’t change education and public safety unless we change how we deliver health care in Prince George’s County, because it has an impact on those two areas.”
State Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s) said that “building this hospital is probably one of the most significant developments I’ve seen in the last 30 to 40 years in Prince George’s County.”
Largo residents praised the decision and hoped it would revitalize the area in addition to bringing needed health care. While shopping options dwindled at the mall, crime increased: Five people were killed there in a four-year period around the recession.
Wilson Hood, who lives in the Landover area, said he chooses Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring for many medical needs. “Hopefully, this will attract more nursing staff and doctors to Prince George’s. We definitely are in need of that,” he said.
Two years ago, when state, county and health officials reached a framework agreement for a new hospital, it looked unlikely that it would be anywhere but the former Landover Mall, where only Sears remains.
The family of Theodore N. Lerner, owners of the mall as well as the Washington Nationals and one of the region’s largest real estate companies, aggressively lobbied for the hospital site to be at Landover Mall.
“If you had asked me at the start of this process which site was going to win, I would have said Landover Mall,” said David S. Iannucci, who is a top economic-development aide to Baker who handled many of the negotiations with landowners. Members of the Dimensions board, including state Dels. Barbara A. Frush and Tawanna P. Gaines, voiced similar thoughts.
The Lerners proposed giving the county 15 acres of the mall’s land and promised to build an 8 million-square-foot mixed-use development alongside it if the county was willing to provide $52 million in road and infrastructure improvements. Lerner, 87, met personally with Baker in the county executive’s office in May to make his pitch. And the firm hired Douglas M. Duncan, the former Montgomery County executive, as a consultant.
“They were very professional,” Iannucci said. “They offered us 15 acres of land by the Beltway, and they were very flexible about where they would build it.”
Later, Lerner, who is worth an estimated $4 billion, sweetened the deal, offering 25 acres and saying he would build just 5 million square feet to reduce traffic and infrastructure costs to $32 million.
But Baker’s staff said a vast majority of residents at a public forum on the four final sites — including those at the Morgan Boulevard Metro station and Woodmore Towne Center — preferred Largo Town Center, in part because it was closer to Metro than the Landover site.
Advocates for transit-oriented development, including the nonprofit Coalition for Smarter Growth, gathered more than 1,000 signatures in support of a selection that would provide better Metro access.
And Retail Properties of America — owners of the Boulevard at the Capital Centre — was ready to make a deal. After buying the center from a partnership led by Abe Pollin for $130 million in 2004, the Oak Brook, Ill., company had watched some of its largest tenants go bust in the recession. The company not only offered to forgo 16 acres it was leasing from the county at a low cost but also said it would acquire an additional nine-acre site (for more than $9 million) and give it to the county for free.
Moreover, Retail Properties planned a more walkable, urban development, which would require the county to spend only $3 million on infrastructure. “We said, ‘Thank you for offering 16 acres of land by the Beltway,’ ” Iannucci said. “We then said, ‘We want you to buy adjacent land and give it to us.’ And they said yes.”
Shane Garrison, an executive vice president with Retail Properties, said in a statement that the Largo choice “demonstrates the transformational potential we have always seen in this property.”
County Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison (District 5) said the cost savings for an opportunity for development won her over. “When you look at all of those things, it’s a better deal for the county,” she said.
The new complex will largely replace the hospital in Cheverly, which has struggled financially and requires frequent subsidies from the state and county. The project will be funded with $450 million in bond financing, including about $200 million each from the state and the county.
County residents interviewed near the site this week said they are already looking forward to it.
“If the hospital is there, it will bring in a lot more people into the shopping area, which can only help,” Bobbie Oliver said.
Oliver, 57, said she has two children with asthma and lives within 10 minutes of Largo Town Center. She frequents the shops at The Boulevard but drives to Cheverly for medical services.
“It will bring in more jobs. It will be accessible. It will be great for this area.”