Metro, Md. shop 39-acre spot

By Jonathan O'Connell
Capital Business Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Metro and Maryland are searching for a private partner to transform 39 acres in New Carrollton into what could be the largest development in Prince George's County since National Harbor.

The site, an assortment of parking lots, access roads and vacant land, enjoys a diverse combination of transit connections that make the site attractive to developers. In addition to the New Carrollton Metro station, the last stop on the eastern end of the Orange Line, there is an Amtrak and MARC station; entrances to the Capital Beltway and Route 50; and a station that would serve as the terminus for the planned Purple Line.

Planners envision a mixed-use, walkable neighborhood with a downtown feel and buildings as tall as 22 stories. In all, Metro and the state envision more than 5 million square feet of new offices, stores, hotels and entertainment space as well as up to 5,500 new residential units. By comparison, all of National Harbor, the Gaylord Hotel-anchored waterfront development by the Peterson Cos., is 7.3 million square feet. Developers of Konterra Town Center East, in Laurel, envision nearly 6 million square feet of offices, retail and hospitality, as well as 4,500 residential units.

Steven Goldin, director of real estate for Metro, called the site "the premiere development opportunity in the United States." Despite the slumping housing market and the flat jobs numbers, he said real estate near public transit carried a premium.

"Transit-oriented developments are a different market relative to similar types of real estate in the same community," he said. "And this is true all over the country. They appreciate at a faster rate and they retain their value in the downturn."

Metro's joint development unit has been criticized for being inattentive or obstructive in attracting private interests to its Metro stations. Many of the stations in Prince George's remain largely unbuilt, vacant of the new housing, retail and employment centers built atop stations in other jurisdictions. Of the 22 development sites Goldin is managing, seven are in Prince George's, according to a Metro Web site.

"There have been frustrations with the [Metro] joint development program and there have been frustrations in Prince George's County about the lack of development around their Metro stations," said Andrew J. Scott, special assistant for economic development at the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Scott praised Metro's hiring a year ago of Goldin, a former private developer from New Jersey and self-described transit-oriented development "geek" in building consensus for New Carrollton and other projects. Rather than seeking a developer who can immediately offer a top price for Metro's real estate, Goldin has emphasized choosing private partners that exhibit the expertise, experience and financial wherewithal needed to juggle competing agendas and multiple stakeholders. New Carrollton, Scott said, was a kickoff for that effort and said the optimism of state officials was evidenced by their willingness to include 16 acres Maryland owns into the plan.

"We're hoping that this will set a new tone for Metro joint development projects," he said.

James Wood, a principal at Perkins and Will, an architecture and planning firm, said that for competing developers, "the number one issue will be managing the multiple stakeholds and how they engage and build consensus around the multiple stakeholders."

Another key measure for the project will be whether Metro and the state can attract more government agencies to fill the office buildings planned for the site. In June, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) announced that the state's Department of Housing and Community Development would relocate to a Metro station in Prince George's but has not named a location. Goldin said he is in frequent contact with the General Services Administration about landing a federal agency.

Responses are due by Nov. 5 with a selection planned by the end of the year.

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