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College Park town center plan revived as U-Md. negotiates with a new developer

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)

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2010

It's not Madison, Wis. And it's a far cry from Chapel Hill, N.C.

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David Daddio, a 2007 graduate of the University of Maryland, said College Park never felt like either of those college towns.

"It doesn't have enough to offer students," said Daddio, now a graduate student at the University of North Carolina.

But it is also why Daddio, who co-founded a blog called Rethink College Park while a student there, was pleased to learn that a plan to build a "town center" at the University of Maryland has been resurrected.

The university is in exclusive negotiations with a Baltimore-based developer to redevelop land on the edge of its campus, reviving a plan that stalled last year when another company pulled out of the project because of the downturn in the economy.

The Cordish Companies will replace Foulger-Pratt/Argo as the lead developer of the East Campus district, a mixed-use development designed to attract faculty and students to the College Park campus and connect the university with the surrounding community. Foulger-Pratt/Argo dropped out of the project last fall, citing financial challenges.

Ann G. Wylie, Maryland's vice president for administrative affairs, said in a statement that Cordish builds "projects that create the sense of place that we are seeking to help enhance the university's physical presence and provide amenities for the campus and local communities." The developer is responsible for several successful entertainment districts, including nightlife near Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Under the original plan, a 38-acre tract of land now housing support facilities would be transformed into a town center with restaurants, graduate student housing, offices, an upscale grocer, a hotel, movie theater, bookstore and entertainment venue. Millree Williams, a university spokesman, said Tuesday that new plans, including a building timeline, have not been finalized.

The university said the Birchmere, the popular Alexandria music hall, has pledged to open a new 500-seat venue that would anchor the development.

Prince George's County Council member Eric Olson (D-College Park) said he wanted to ensure the growth didn't come at the expense of the existing downtown. "We have to make sure it's done in a way that builds our community in every facet," he said, adding that residents want independent businesses, not just national chains for retail.

State Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George's) applauded steps to integrate the campus with the surrounding community, but acknowledged that the city's spread-out, traffic-choked main artery is far from the dense, walkable streetscape that could soon buffer the two. "The community is supportive of the redevelopment . . . but we are all much more interested in a long-term cooperative vision for improving College Park," he said. "That means not just East Campus, but also redeveloping Route 1 dramatically."

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