U-Md. plans $115 million luxury hotel and conference center in College Park


The vacant lot where University of Maryland President Wallace Loh would like to build a luxury hotel and conference center across from the campus in College Park. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

The University of Maryland wants to build an 11-story, $115 million luxury hotel and conference center across from its main entrance in College Park.

The proposal calls for a 300-room, four-star hotel with conference and meeting space, a full­service restaurant and bar, shops and a swimming pool. University officials say the project, which would occupy three acres on Route 1, would fill a need for upscale accommodations in an area of Prince George’s County with few such options.

“This will be a wonderful amenity for the area, and it will give visitors a good impression of the university and the community,” said Carlo Colella, the university’s vice president of administration and finance. “The existing market does not have a product of this size or quality.”

The Maryland Board of Public Works last month declared the land where U-Md. would build the project as surplus, allowing the university to move forward. U-Md. is expected to return to the three-member panel this spring to seek approval to sell the land to the University of Maryland College Park Foundation.

If the land deal is approved, the foundation intends to lease the property to Southern Management Corp., based in Vienna, Va., which would build the hotel. The foundation and Southern Management’s chief executive, David Hillman, are negotiating a development agreement, officials said.

The hotel-conference center would have an architecturally distinctive glass facade and would be one of the tallest structures in that part of the Route 1 corridor inside the Capital Beltway, officials said.

“It will really make a statement,” U-Md. President Wallace D. Loh said. “Once this hotel is developed, the irony is there will be even more hotels. [Developers] will realize that there is this huge demand.”

Each year, scores of academic conferences are held in Baltimore or Washington because there are no hotels or other facilities near campus that can accommodate the programs, Loh said.

The development would be near a proposed Purple Line light-rail station and in an area the university has designated as an innovation district. The building would incorporate an innovation incubator where students could work to create new companies, and the university plans to turn a couple of smaller buildings nearby into innovation studios, Loh said.

The proposal is a scaled-back version of a $700 million development that U-Md. considered in 2008 and 2010. That plan called for the transformation of a 38-acre tract into a town center with sit-down restaurants, student housing, offices, an upscale grocer, a four-star hotel, a movie theater, a bookstore and an entertainment venue.

The university abandoned the town center concept after city and county leaders expressed concerns about the development’s effect on downtown College Park.

Loh, who took over as U-Md. president in late 2010, said the new strategy is to spread investment along the Route 1 corridor and in College Park’s existing downtown. In doing so, he said, the university will work with the city and county to contribute to the overall revitalization of the Route 1 corridor.

Prince George’s County Council member Eric Olson (D-College Park) said the project offers amenities that are nonexistent in the area and could boost collective efforts to transform College Park into a livelier college town. Other development projects in the pipeline for Route 1 include the county’s first Whole Foods Market and housing for university students and staff.

Loh said the hotel-conference center is “intended to serve the entire region, not just the campus.”

There are about a dozen small hotels and motels a quick drive away from U-Md., including the College Park Marriott Hotel and Conference Center on the west side of the campus on University Boulevard. The Marriott has about 200 rooms and has meeting space for university conferences. But most of the nearby hotels and motels are older structures. The area also has image problems because of reports of illegal activity such as prostitution at some of the establishments.

Many of the 80,000 to 90,000 annual visitors to the university seek lodgings outside the county, officials say. At the same time, U-Md. expects the number of visitors to increase with the school’s entrance into the Big Ten Conference, raising its profile as a competitive athletic and academic institution.

“I already know that when Ohio State comes here, there will be about 30,000 fans,” Loh said. “They are going to make a big weekend out of it. They will go to see the sights of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. But where will 30,000 people stay? Even our hotel is not going to be large enough to accommodate them.”

“Our conference center will be booked,” Loh said. “It will have a huge economic impact on the whole region.”

The university estimates that the project will create 1,637 jobs in construction and operations, including at least 357 permanent jobs. The complex will generate an estimated $4.4 million annually in state and local tax revenue, officials said.

Southern Management is one of the largest privately owned residential property management companies in the Baltimore-Washington area, where it owns and manages more than 25,000 apartments. It also has two hotels and conference centers, including the three-year-old Hotel at Arundel Preserve in Hanover, Md.

Hillman, the company’s chief executive, has been doing business in Prince George’s for five decades. He called the hotel a “legacy project” and expressed a hope that other developers will follow.

“We won’t have enough guest rooms to accommodate the number of people that will be coming there to use the conference facilities. What I am counting on is that this project will give other developers the confidence to build more hotels in the corridor,” he said.

If things go according to plan, groundbreaking for the project could occur next spring with the hotel opening by fall 2017, Hillman said.

The county government has pledged its support.

“This provides a level of quality that we do not have near the University of Maryland,” said Bradley W. Frome, a top economic development aide to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III. “There is every expectation that when this gets to the local entitlement process this will move expeditiously.”

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Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.

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