County aid at issue in bid to lure HHS to Prince George's

County Executive Jack B. Johnson wants the council to give a tax deal to the One Largo Metro development, near Largo Town Center Station.
County Executive Jack B. Johnson wants the council to give a tax deal to the One Largo Metro development, near Largo Town Center Station. (2004 Photo By Gerald Martineau/the Washington Post)
By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 29, 2009

A proposal designed to give a developer an advantage in its attempt to lure federal offices to Prince George's County has led another developer vying for the bid to ask for the same deal.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) asked the County Council this month to consider a bill that would allow Prince George's to create a special taxing district for One Largo Metro, a proposed mixed-use development on 11 acres near the Largo Town Center Metro station. The tax deal would probably give developer Peter Ng Schwartz a better shot at getting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to move from Rockville to Largo.

The legislation would authorize the county to issue bonds to finance parking facilities and make infrastructure improvements. A portion of the property taxes from the development would be used to pay back the bonds.

John Erzen, a spokesman for Johnson, said the county executive requested the legislation to make sure Prince George's is "ready to go" if a federal agency chooses to move to the county. He wanted the bill to be site-specific.

But at least one council source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the legislation is pending, said the bill makes little sense from a policy standpoint.

Prince George's is jockeying to win the HHS bid from Montgomery County. The source said that by limiting the bill to one developer, the county might be hurting its chances of landing the project.

The federal General Services Administration, which oversees development for the executive branch, might be more interested in a bid other than Schwartz's but that developer would not have the help from the county.

"Why would we do anything to hurt our chances of getting this?" the source said.

In addition to Schwartz, the Carl Williams Group and Herschel W. Blumberg have submitted bids for their projects in New Carrollton and Hyattsville. Each developer is interested in building almost 1 million square feet of office space for HHS. The bid, if granted, would move 5,000 federal jobs to the county.

The Carl Williams Group, which is proposing a 24-story building on four acres near the New Carrollton Metro station, asked the council Monday to consider an amendment that would create similar special taxing districts for the New Carrollton location and University Town Center in Hyattsville.

"GSA is going to call this one and the most important thing for us all is to be for a [Prince George's] site" rather than a Montgomery County one, John Lally, an attorney for the Carl Williams Group, wrote in an e-mail to members of the council.

Erzen said the county executive does not favor amending the bill.

"If there was an agency that would want to look at other locations, we'd address that as those instances arise," he said.

Montgomery isn't giving up HHS without a fight, however.

HHS's lease at the Parklawn Building in Rockville ended in July. GSA awarded a new lease to Parklawn last month, according to Michael McGill, a GSA spokesman. McGill said the five-year, $108 million lease is a temporary extension while the procurement process continues.

Steve Silverman, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development, said the county has "all the tools in the arsenal to support HHS staying in a revamped Parklawn building." The county is poised to offer grant money to Chevy Chase developer JBG to enhance its bid proposal, Silverman said.

McGill would not comment on how many bids have been received. It is also unclear when a decision will be made on a permanent home for HHS.

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