After nearly a decade of touting the 1,200-acre Collington Center industrial park as a centerpiece of Prince George's County's economic development drive, officials say their efforts to lure businesses to the park near Bowie have failed to meet expectations and they are seeking to turn a primary 400-acre segment over to a private developer.

In addition, according to county and Collington officials, a separate segment -- the 77-acre foreign trade zone that was established in 1980 -- has failed to spark the development they once hoped for. Although the foreign trade zone has 12 tenants, only one is taking advantage of the zone's special allowance to import and assemble products free of the tariffs that would be imposed in other areas.

"The county simply has not done a good job here. It's been floundering around here for too long," said Donald Spicer, Collington's general manager, who was hired by the county in February to help revitalize the drive to bring business to the county-owned park. The county "just does not have the expertise to be in the land development business," he added.

Spicer's sentiments were echoed by other county officials such as Lance Billingsley, chairman of the county's economic development corporation, and Tim Ayers, an assistant to County Executive Parris Glendening.

"We've had some some activity, but not as much as we'd like. The land is sitting there fallow," Ayers said. "In the past, the county should have had it on a higher priority."

Despite the problems, Billingsley echoes other county officials when he defends the park as "a crown jewel" of Prince George's economic resurgence. As development has taken off throughout the Washington suburbs, the county has mounted a major campaign to court business and compete with areas such as Tysons Corner in Fairfax County and the Rte. 270 corridor in Montgomery County.

"We want to see that area become a major hub of economic development in the county," Billingsley said, adding that the Collington Center and the area between the Capital Beltway and Rtes. 202 and 301 are the county's two main areas of development.

Officials also note that the value of the Collington Center property has more than doubled in recent years. Last month, 24 acres were sold to Pruitt-Hazel Partnership for $2.5 million.

Eight firms have purchased sites in the domestic area of the Collington Center, at Rtes. 301 and 214, to fill about 80 acres in the park. Though the value of the property has increased dramatically in recent years, the county has not been able to attract the number of firms officials had expected. So, last month, county officials abandoned their past strategies and began contacting several hundred private development companies to sell, lease or jointly develop the 400-acre segment.

Collington Center is divided into three sections: a 600-acre central section, including the 77-acre foreign trade zone that is being operated by a private developer; the 200-acre south section, which is being held in reserve; and the 400-acre north section.

Four developers have expressed interest in the north section, said Glendening, with the final deadline to submit preliminary development proposals still four weeks away.

Before attempting the current strategy, the county had established a dizzying array of financing plans and incentives to lure firms in the past few years, but none has been able to stir the type of interest the county has sought.

"We were doing everything except marketing it and there was still no activity," Spicer said. "We were selling the property at below market value, and there was a negative cash flow."

While some county officials argue for patience, others, including representatives of firms that have relocated in the park, point to the center's location and the lack of business-related services in the area as the primary obstacles to the park's success.

"We bought in {to the center} because of the proximity to BWI Airport, but there have been some difficulties operating out of this area," said Ken Geremia of the National Association of Home Builders, which relocated from Rockville to a 25-acre parcel at Collington Center. "We have to travel farther for things like printing, office supplies and food, but we still expect that eventually these services will arrive.

"It's the chicken and the egg syndrome: Do the support services come first or do the businesses come first?" he added.

County officials, pointing to the planned widening of nearby Central Avenue to a multilane highway and the proposed upgrade of Rte. 301 to a four- or six-lane highway, say they are counting on development in the area to spark some interest in Collington. In addition, they say, establishment of the Maryland Science and Technology Center just north at Rtes. 301 and 50 and the increased economic development of the Bowie area are likely to trigger interest in Collington.

Though county officials remain optimistic that the 400-acre segment will eventually attract interest, they are openly frustrated with the lack of success of the 77-acre foreign trade zone.

"By all assessments, it's a disappointment," Glendening said, adding that the project suffers from the zone's relatively small size compared with most other foreign trade zones and its distance from a major port or airport.

According to Robert Battee of Harkins Associates, which manages the zone for the county, the most successful foreign trade zones support foreign automakers. However, Collington's zone is too small to lure any such firms, Battee said.

Poor planning led to many of the problems, according to Phillip Schwartz, who as administrator of the county's division of property management headed the Collington Center until Spicer was hired in February.

"Originally we didn't have enough information on foreign trade zones and how to operate them. If we had to do it again, we would have located in another place" in the county, he said.