At 8:30 a.m. yesterday, a couple of dozen real estate brokers stood in an empty office in Largo eating mini-muffins as the landlord urged them to look beyond the worn carpet and imagine a bustling office or busy call center.
The breakfast was organized by the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp., which has been trying to build the county's commercial real estate market and reduce its vacancy rate by engaging regional real estate brokers in regular meetings.
Prince George's has one of the smallest commercial real estate markets in the Washington region, with 21.8 million square feet of office space in 548 buildings. About 10.9 percent of that space is vacant, according to a recent survey by CoStar Group Inc., which collects commercial real estate data. Fairfax and Montgomery counties both have twice as many office buildings, with 95.7 million and 61.4 million square feet, respectively, according to CoStar.
"The intent of the breakfasts is to foster a collective effort to get vacant space back into productive use as quickly as possible," said Kwasi G. Holman, president of the economic development corporation.
The office visited yesterday is owned by MTM Builder/Developer Inc., which was showing off 75,000 square feet recently vacated by Verizon Communications Inc.
"The floor pad is plug-and-play ready," Richard Flaherty, a senior vice president of MTM, told the group. "We hope you will keep us in mind for a call center or another general office use."
The county is rapidly building office space, and Holman sees it as a force that could drive the economy. In a survey of 2004 commercial real estate projects, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments found that Prince George's had more commercial real estate under construction than any jurisdiction except the District.
When Holman was appointed to his job a year and a half ago, he was unfamiliar with local brokers and decided to address that by co-hosting the monthly breakfasts with developers, beginning several months ago.
"I was concerned that I did not know enough of the commercial brokers," Holman said. "I was concerned that they were -- in some cases -- asking Prince George's business to move to other jurisdictions. I said, 'How can I meet these guys?' "
Yesterday, Holman told the group members that he was available to help them find space in the county or to navigate permit issues.
"What's your phone number," a broker shouted.
Others said the breakfast meetings are helping to change negative perceptions about the county. The Largo building is one of about a dozen in a clustered office complex near a Metro station and a two-year-old shopping center.
"We want brokers who don't normally think about the county to see the quality of the space and the location of the space," said Charles A. Dukes, a longtime dealer in county real estate and chairman of the Prince George's Economic Development Corp.
Karen Jackson Miller, a senior associate at Trammell Crow Co.'s Bethesda office, said that before she began to work in the county she heard only bad things. "Prince George's has a bad reputation -- I don't think it is deserved -- but it does. Problems with permitting, crime, there's no infrastructure," she said. "But, crime is only in some areas, and it has some of the best roads around."
Coming to broker breakfasts and visiting properties has helped her explain that to clients, she said.