University Town Center, the mixed-use complex in Hyattsville that developer Herschel W. Blumberg long dreamt of and recently began building, has fallen victim to unwieldy debt and parts of it are at-risk of being foreclosed upon.
A foreclosure auction has been scheduled Aug. 10 for large portions of the complex, including Metro One, a 289,000-square-foot office building occupied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a 112-unit condominium building, a 22-unit apartment building, a 14-screen movie theater by Consolidated Theaters and two future development sites.
Blumberg’s development company, Prince George’s Metro Center Inc., is attempting to maintain control of the properties, according to M. Scott DeCain, a consultant from Bald Eagle Partners. DeCain said he is representing the company as it tries to negotiate an “amicable” agreement with its lender, Wells Fargo, that would allow Prince George’s Metro to retain as much ownership as possible. He said he is working with a capital partner (whom he would not name) to either by prevent foreclosure or regain control of the properties after they are foreclosed upon.
“I think we’re close to getting it done, but we’re not there yet,” DeCain said last week.
Blumberg, today in his late 80s, bought 56 acres in Hyattsville in 1954 with visions of a town center. In the 1990s, with the real estate market on an upswing, he began the project in earnest, attracting retailers and erecting a16-story, 910-bed apartment building for students. In 2006, Blumberg completed One Independent Plaza, the complex’s first condominium building. A 22-unit luxury project, Plaza Lofts 22, followed.
But despite access to the Prince George’s Plaza Metro station, the condominiums showed up at the wrong time, on the precipice of the housing collapse. Five years later, according to the foreclosure auction’s sales terms, 37 of the 112 units in Independent Plaza are still unsold and Plaza Lofts 22 is completely vacant and being marketed as an apartment building. DeCain attributed the problems to poor timing, heavy borrowing and some development mistakes.
Prince George’s Metro Center was also one of the developers vying to land a lease of nearly 1 million square feet from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
But in March, the General Services Administration announced that it would keep the agency in Rockville. The Government Accountability Office later upheld protests from three developers for the lease, and the GSA is now considering next steps.
Aubrey Thagard, special assistant for economic development to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), said the possible foreclosure was a disappointment. Baker has been leaning on the GSA to consider the county for more federal leases.
“It’s rather unfortunate that it came to this point here,” Thagard said. “We hope that through this process that a new owner will come forward that will have renewed energy and vision to stabilize that project, and from there will continue what has already started there at University Town Center — which is basically to present another great option in terms of mixed-use, transit-oriented development in the county.”