U-Md. Project Envisions A Livelier College Park

University of Maryland officials want to mirror the success of other schools' public-private initiatives with their $700 million, 38-acre project.
University of Maryland officials want to mirror the success of other schools' public-private initiatives with their $700 million, 38-acre project. (Foulger-pratt And Argo Investment)
By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 7, 2008

In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania replaced an old parking lot with upscale stores, restaurants and a luxury hotel.

Just outside Atlanta, Georgia Tech created a high-tech corridor to integrate with the local business community by building an office and research park, a hotel, a conference center and shops on its campus.

Now, in College Park, the University of Maryland is working to replicate those public-private initiatives by redeveloping a 38-acre tract of land into a bustling town center with sit-down restaurants, student housing, offices, an upscale grocer, a four-star hotel, movie theater, bookstore and entertainment venue.

The University of Maryland lacks many of the amenities found near other colleges, including a grocery store and upscale restaurants.

"Maryland has a goal to be a top 10 university, and they realize without a top 10 college town, they would never make it," said Douglas M. Duncan, the former Montgomery County executive and the university's vice president for administrative affairs, who is overseeing the project.

The $700 million development, to be called East Campus, will be used to lure faculty and students and to link the university with the surrounding neighborhood. The project is part of a growing trend on college campuses that are trying to improve recruiting efforts and strained neighborhood relationships.

Duncan said he was surprised by the mistrust and tension between the university and its community when he began working on the project. For the development to be successful, he said tensions would need to be eased.

"This is for the community. This is for Prince George's County," Duncan said. "We want [the community] to come to it and be proud of it."

The University of Maryland plans to tear down old student housing, abandoned research greenhouses, its mail facility and maintenance buildings to create an area where students and residents of the College Park community can shop, dine and gather for concerts.

University officials estimate that the first phase, including most of the housing and other buildings, will be completed by 2011. The second phase, which will include housing for graduate students, would open in 2014.

The Birchmere plans to open a 500-seat, state-of-the-art music venue at the location by 2010, and the university and its developer are working to secure a specialty grocer, such as Whole Foods or Harris Teeter.

East Campus will try to attract a movie theater chain, such as Sundance Cinemas or Landmark Theatres, which offer an array of wide-release and independent films, Duncan said.

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