To the drivers on the Capital Beltway, headed north through the flatlands of central Prince George's County, the dull gold face of the Gould Building rears up suddenly, grandly, almost aloof from the jumble of neon and traffic below it on Lanham-Severn Road.
Up on the eighth floor, Bob Polley is at work in the office of the county's economic development committee, trying to entice the cream of America's corporations into the county, so that they can bring buildings like this one with them.
Polley, like his boss County Executive Windfield Kelly, is out to change the contours of the county. They hope to bring in enough office buildings and hotels and big, detached houses to make people forget the glut of garden apartments and the small, crumbling downtowns of the inner county.
Now the first concrete signs of their labor are beginning to sprou - the start of what Kelly and Polley hope will be the county's second generation of growth.
The changes aren't dramatic yet. In New Carrollton, where the Beltway meets the John Hanson Highway, earth-moving machines are taking bites fron a 30-foot mound of dirt. In Calverton, a small computer firm has set up shop. To the east, out Central Avenue, the skeletons of #90,000 homes are sticking out of the ground.
It's not a grand display of finery thus far - a few jewels sewn into the existing patchwork of warehouses, shopping centers and sprawl - but for Prince George's County officials, who are aggressively trying to shed the image of the por county on the block, they are a start - and at selling point for other similar developments.
There are more of these things in the wind: a revenue-producing hotel and office complex in Greenbelt near the Beltway, offices and homes in Largo, a new downtown commercial center south of Bowie and another far to the south in Brandywine.
In between, stretching out to the east along Route 214 and to the south along Route 202, there would be the large homes, the lawns, and the shrubs of the county's hoped for elite.
"I am particularly interested in high-grade residential developments, like Enterprise Estates," said Polley. "When you get managerial types to look at the county you can say, 'This is where you can live.' . . .
"From there, you can talk about what we're trying to do in terms of marketing the county, about why they should come here," Polley added.
Polley and his staff spend hours with corporate representatives, describing the county's mass transit network, its major roads, and its proximity to Baltimore and Washington. Color brochures spill out across Polley's desk, statistical booklets fill his office files.
When a corporation shows an interest in moving to the county, Polley then sets about cutting through the red tape of zoning applications, sewer applications, and building permits.
Take the case of Shell Oil Company's Land Investment Division, which this spring bought 83 acres of industrial land just northeast of where the Beltway and the John Hanson Highway intersect.
Right now, Shell executives are talking about a gleaming high-rise hotel on the site, adjacent to an office and research park - a perfect development for the county's tax base, producing substantial revenue but demanding little in the way of costly services.
"You could see something very dramatic at that location," said County Council Administrator Kenneth Duncan. "That location offers the best opportunity for the county to put its best foot forward."
A year ago, the same piece of property seemed destined to lie fallow. Even though the land is adjacent to the proposed New Carrollton Metro station and Amtrak's Beltway station, the difficulty of getting in and out of the site lessened its attractiveness considerably.
"My impression is . . . that county officials picked up the potential of the site before the development interests did," said John McDonough, a senior assistant to County Executive Kelly. At the same time, the land's owners, the national land development firm of Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, were looking for a buyer. Shell's land investment division showed an interest and "We caught wind of that," said Polley.
"We didn't call up Shell in Houston and say, 'Here's a great piece of property,' but when we heard they were looking, the county contacted their representative and started pushing."
Since Shell showed an interest - despite a consultant's report advising the corporation not to invest in Prince George's - Polley added, "We've been working closely with them, taking them by the hand . . . The set of regulations around here are very rigid, they make development very difficult.
"We have to convince the Shell people that they can get through this morass of regulations. Then we have to get the applications out of the bottom drawer of some planner, and onto the Council's agenda." If a rezoning application of a favored developer like Shell is rejected, "We help him clear up what's wrong with it," said Polley.
With the new Carrollton property however, the difficulty was not so much sewer allocations - even though it was located in the Anacostla Basin, where constraints on sewer construction have been severe, it was able to get almost a third of the available new capacity for industry.
Instead, the problem here was roads. Getting to the Amtrak station from the Beltway or Route 50 involves a tortuous series of loops and bends. When Route 50 was built in 1956, all easy access to the site was cut off.
Slade Caltrider, of the State Highway Administration, said that the Cabot, Cabot & Forbes effort to sell the property and the state government's realization that the road system had to be improved "were simultaneous events." He knew the Metro station was to open in 1978. Then, he pointed out, the Shell executives didn't want to put a large investment into a piece of property and have no way to get in or out."
So the state started construction of $1.1 million worth of entrance ramps and access roads, with the county helping build a portion of the internal road system. Still, Caltrider said, "what we're building now is not primarily to service the development - but it is complementary."
In May of this year, Shell bought the property for $3.77 million and will be investing at least several million dollars more to get it ready to sell to the firms that will eventually build there.
The end result, if things go as Polley hopes will be one more clean revenue-producing complex, one more symbol of what the county could be.
There are more projects like it in the works: for the Greenbelt - or 'Golden' - Triangle at Greenbelt Road and the Beltway, and for a plot of land near the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and the Beltway, where the county hopes to see a research park.
County officials like Polley make no apologies for the extra help given Shell or other corporation whose proposals the county favors. "Our job is expediting things," he said.
They fight what they didn't like. County Executive Kelly, while driving up the Beltway some months ago, saw a sign advertising single-family homes for $39,999, a relatively low and unprestigious price for the Washington area market. He drove into the area, as he tells it, talked to the developer and the sign came down the next day. He is still unhappy with the houses left behind, however.
Kelly wants to attract the more lavish development, of the sort that grows up around country clubs and golf courses. Indeed, the county is in the process of purchasing a 218-acre tract at Enterprise and Woodmore Roads for negotiating with a developer for the construction of a country club there. That, Kelly hopes, would attract more corporations and more jobs.
The county has sought to make it as difficult as possible for new apartments to be built. "We've seen only 300 apartment unit permits this year - that's nothing," said Wilson. Ten years ago, nearly 2,000 apartment units were built; 12 years ago, the figure was nearly 13,000. This year, 96.3 per cent of all dwellings constructed in the county have been single-family homes.
There are three spots in the county where home development, as well as office and commercial development, are supposed to boom.
One is Largo, site of the Capital Centre and, county officials hope, an eventual convention center and a "downtown" for the county. The others are the Bowie New Town project and the Mattawoman project in the far south of the county.
In the Mattawoman, Washington Gas Light Co., J.C Penney department stores, the Montgomery Ward chain and two other smaller property owners are teaming up to get zoning on 3,100 acres for a massive retail center - known in the language of planners as a "Major Activities Center."
If the utility's proposals are accepted by the County Council, the area's trees and occasional cornfields would be replaced by a bustling center of office buildings, shops and warehouses. Around this, there would be 5,803 dwellings - 2,700 single-family homes, 1,455 apartments in midrise buildings, and the balance in town houses or patio homes.
The whole development, including all the properties - Penney's and Ward's together own 277 acres designed to be in the New Town Center - is designed to be built in stages up to the year 2000.
The beginning of construction, however, "it a ways off - a few years at least," one planner said. For one thing, sewer lines are not plentiful in the area - major construction may be needed, if Charles County doesn't agree to share its sewer lines.
For another, it may take a while before there is a market for homes 25 miles southeast of Washington along Route 5 - at least a market that would support that major a project. "That's a big jump to the far southern part of Prince George's," said Kelly aide John McDonough.
In the meantime new homes continue to grow to the north, and Polley and Kelly continue to head to the big cities - Chicago and New York - to lure the big firms back home to Prince George's.