Prince George's County is selling the last of the large builder-ready commercial lots in the Collington Center after nearly three decades of frustration and controversy as the industrial park's owner and developer.
Thomas Somerville Co., a wholesale heating and plumbing business in the District, has agreed to purchase 17 acres of land in the center south of Bowie, according to county officials. Once the Somerville sale becomes final in October, only 90 acres in the 1,200-acre commercial center will be left on the market--and many of those parcels are not particularly attractive for development.
Officials in the administration of County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) said most of the remaining land--about 55 acres near the back of the park--lacks utilities or road connections. The rest consists of five smaller lots that also have drainage problems and other development challenges.
"We'll have nothing that's going to attract nirvana," said Howard W. Stone Jr., the county's chief administrative officer.
The sale to Somerville of the remaining portions of the Collington Center essentially marks the end of a colorful history of county ownership of the property, which lies west of U.S. Route 301 and south of Maryland Route 214.
The county purchased the farmland in the 1960s with the hope that it could develop an airport and industrial park. But the $58 million project ran into considerable opposition from Bowie residents and even state leaders. In 1971, then-County Executive William W. Gullett signed an order forbidding construction of an airport.
Since the 1980s, the county has tried to develop the land as an industrial park with offices and warehouse and distribution space.
In the late 1980s, the purchase and sale of the land became the focus of a county grand jury investigation after allegations surfaced that county officials were cutting deals for politically connected developers.
The investigation generated some reforms, but for the most part, the land just sat there undeveloped.
From 1982 to 1990, the county negotiated 20 land sales. Most of the 90 businesses now in the industrial park moved in during the 1990s. Safeway Inc. owns one of the largest pieces of land. The company built an $85 million warehouse distribution center that opened last year. Nordstrom, the department store, also has a warehouse in the Collington Center.
Stone said the center took off once the county abandoned its lofty goals for the land and began in recent years to focus on marketing an industrial park. (Lanham-based Michael Cos. Inc. brokers the center for the county.)
"You realize what it is," Stone said. "Once we tried to appeal to that warehouse-industrial-type market, it took on a life."
Bechdon Co. Inc. was one of the first industrial companies to build in the center and moved into 53,000 square feet of space in 1990.
Owner William Turley, whose company manufactures aerospace parts, moved Bechdon from an office in Temple Hills to the Upper Marlboro industrial park because the company was expanding and the county offered a good deal on the land.
"We made a proposal and the county came back and countered and it was very, very reasonable," Turley said.
Turley said the county also financed the deal.
"I didn't feel like they gave away the store," he said. "But the county was really good to deal with."
Turley said he was attracted to the Collington location because of its proximity to clients in Washington and suppliers in Baltimore.
Since 1990, the Bowie area has grown into a booming commercial and residential area. The area has restaurants and a Target store and two Giant supermarkets within several miles of each other.
"When I first looked at this park, I thought it was too far out for us," Turley said. "Now it's right in town."
County Council member Audrey E. Scott (R-Bowie) said Collington Center has suffered because the county never had a marketing strategy.
"That center hasn't gotten the attention it deserved," she said. "There hasn't been an aggressive marketing effort in place."
Scott said the county never should have tried to develop the land.
"The role of the government is not to be a landowner," she said, "and that's what we've been."
CAPTION: William Turley, owner of Bechdon Co. Inc., talks with Paul Richmond in Collington Center. Bechdon was one of the first industrial companies to build there.