From the Ground Up

University Plans a Spark in College Park

By Chris Kirkham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 27, 2006

Just east of U.S. Route 1 near the University of Maryland's fraternity row, a hodgepodge of maintenance offices, storage sheds and a greenhouse could give way within a few years to a town-center-style development with apartments, restaurants and a major hotel.

University officials plan to lease 36 acres of the east campus near Paint Branch Parkway to a private developer -- the largest such offering in the school's history -- to transform the underused area into an all-hours retail and residential district near the College Park Green Line station.

Earlier this fall university officials asked for proposals for the project. Now they have narrowed the list of developers to a few candidates, who have not been identified. They expect to select a developer in February to complete the estimated $500 million project within five years.

The developers hope to expand and upgrade College Park's options for shopping and dining. "Everything that's around the university has to be at a certain level that's expected at a world-class institution," said University of Maryland President C. Daniel Mote Jr. "Frankly, the region around the university is not quite there. I think everybody would agree to that."

Since the university will retain ownership of the land, it will have a heavy hand in negotiations with the chosen developer. For example, the university wants at least some of the residential units to be reserved for graduate housing -- about 450 beds -- with rents below the market rate.

The developer will probably have to demolish some undergraduate housing, the greenhouse, a mail-sorting facility and maintenance buildings, and pay to move them elsewhere on campus.

The lack of graduate student housing has been a big concern on campus. Laura Moore, president of the Graduate Student Government, said less than 7 percent of the school's graduate students can fit in the two buildings now available as residences.

"It's a pretty raw deal," said Moore, a third-year entomology grad student. Students frequently complain of mid-lease rent increases and lack of hot water, she said.

The university also asked that development proposals include a hotel, a child-care center and a national-chain bookstore, but those are not required. University officials say one goal is to create attractive retail and dining options for older students and for people who will be doing business at M Square, the research park under construction a few blocks away.

"You have this very large, very lucrative demographic with the population, in what may be the last under-retailed part of the Washington metropolitan area, so it's a very strong market," said John D. Porcari, the university vice president in charge of the east campus redevelopment.

One hypothetical design the university showed to potential developers included a hotel and convention center with a parking garage at the corner of U.S. 1 and Paint Branch Parkway. Farther south, where there is now a greenhouse, it showed a mixed office and residential development, with restaurants and retail on the bottom floor. Another office and residential development would replace the Leonardtown undergraduate dorms, and a walkway would connect the two complexes.

Though university land is owned by the state and therefore is not taxable, city officials in College Park are interested in revenue from the development. College Park and the university will negotiate the tax options, which could include a payment in lieu of taxes.

College Park businesses also want to ensure that the development doesn't take away from private downtown plans.

"One of the goals of this east campus project is to help all of the area," said John Brown III, who is working with a university committee on behalf of downtown businesses. "It doesn't benefit if all of a sudden that area becomes a wonderful new town center and we see everything else decay."

For undergraduate Eric Fidler, who is involved with a campus redevelopment blog called Rethink College Park, just having a nearby grocery store and a restaurant worth taking a date to would be an improvement.

"There are a thousand permutations on the sandwich in this town, but a lot of people want to go someplace nicer when their parents come," Fidler said.

Staff writer Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company