The National Harbor project hasn't trumped all other business and economic development activity at the Prince George's County Council.
As the state kicks off its legislative session, County Council members are starting to outline what they want from the state and the county for their districts--and most want more economic development.
Some of the council issues already are well-defined. The 53-member Commission 2000 is expected to report on long-term transportation and development planning in the spring and may fill the County Council's plate with proposed changes to zoning and development regulations.
Approvals for mixed-use development around Metro stations also will be an issue. Council members say they embrace ideas of "smart growth" and like the idea of using Metro developments to spur inner-Beltway revitalization. Specifically, council members endorse the extension of Metro's Blue Line to the Largo Town Center, development near Metro stations in College Park and New Carrollton and a proposed "purple line" connecting Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) proposes the budget and sends it to the County Council by the end of March. The council can, within certain limits, change, approve or disapprove of the plan.
At his State of the County address in November, Curry hinted of priorities when he discussed the need to get the National Harbor project moving. What the county and state will pay out for the massive project is yet to be set. In the next couple of months, the General Assembly will hash out details of the state's transportation and infrastructure budget.
Fixing the county schools--suffering from crowding, lack of funding, a shortage of certified teachers and a poor image--is a priority for the council, whose members see a link between improving the schools and attracting businesses, which consider education when relocating.
"The school issue is going to be high on the priority list, with attention focused on building more schools and better salaries for teachers and principals, said Marvin F. Wilson (D-Glenarden). He wants to close the salary gap between Prince George's County and neighboring jurisdictions. The county's annual salary for starting teachers is about $2,000 less than those in Montgomery and Fairfax counties. Any wage increase benefits the teachers and principals who have direct contact with the children, not the high-ranking administrators, Wilson said.
Council members also have specific and somewhat more local goals for their districts.
M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Croom) wants to attract more technology companies through incentives that meet their special needs and by simplifying the permit process for all companies.
"We don't think that Prince George's County or the State of Maryland should be excluded" from the new economy, he said. "We'd like a piece of the action."
Audrey F. Scott (R-Bowie) said her priority is finding tenants for the University of Maryland Science and Technology Center. The 300-acre site has only two tenants--the Institute for Defense Analysis and the U.S. Census Bureau.
"We need to be a lot more aggressive in marketing. . . . I think we're missing the boat," she said. She will try to secure state funds to help market the center, which already has infrastructure such as storm-water management.
Council Vice Chairman Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood) said he is going to focus on developing an arts community in cities in his district, which could include performing arts centers, work space for artists and art galleries. "Economic development is about providing good jobs, quality of life and education," he said. The Hyattsville-College Park area is home to many artists, and economically troubled areas could be revitalized by creating spaces for the arts, he said.
Chairman Dorothy F. Bailey (D-Temple Hills) said this year's priority is redevelopment of old commercial strips in the Suitland and Capitol Heights area. Development near Metro areas in her district, which includes Suitland and District Heights, also may help to spur development of technology companies, she said.
Council member Ronald V. Russell (D-Mitchellville) said his economically diverse district still is searching for ways to attract better retail and restaurant development. With the addition of Aetna/U.S. Healthcare's regional offices in the Inglewood office park and the proposed rebuilding of US Airways Arena, he is optimistic that this year may bring better luck.
"I do not have any specific legislation" to entice retailers to the area, Russell said. He added that he will at least make sure the climate in the county stays business-friendly.
Isaac J. Gourdine (D-Fort Washington) said he wants to get as many Prince George's businesses--retailers and construction contractors--involved in the $560 million National Harbor project as possible. "The county has a requirement of 30 percent minority participation. Even though it is a private development, I want to strike an agreement" with developer Milton V. Peterson to benefit minorities in this county, Gourdine said.
Walter H. Maloney (D-Beltsville) said the booming economy has led to over-development, traffic congestion and the threat of crowding in schools in his district. "We have the lowest unemployment rate in the history of this county. Economic development is not a problem, and joblessness is not a problem." He said his focus will be on controlling that growth and making sure that adequate public facilities exist for his constituents.
CAPTION: Marvin F. Wilson wants to focus on better salaries for teachers.
CAPTION: M.H. Jim Estepp seeks incentives to lure technology companies.
CAPTION: Dorothy F. Bailey hopes to improve old commercial strips.