“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.”