Prince George's County, long the stepchild left behind during the metropolitan area's building extravaganza, is becoming a Cinderella of development.
Construction of office complexes has boomed, particularly around the Beltway, with approximately 2 million square feet of space either under construction or planned, according to the county. This compares with about 8 1/2 million square feet of existing space. High-technology firms have been attracted to the area, particularly aerospace and computer firms.
But one major new attraction to the county--the Metrorail system--has not been the spur to new development that it has been in some other jurisdictions, area planning and commercial real estate experts say. This has caused county officials to start an assessment of how best to lure the private sector to develop the areas around those stops.
"The Metro boom is around the corner" rather than occurring now for Prince George's, said Frank Derro, chief of the transportation planning division of the Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission. "I think there will be more potential at the new stations," he said, referring to several planned stops at the ends of the northern and southern portions of the Green Line, which are not expected to be open until 1991, Derro said.
Some of Prince George's current or planned stops are in low- or moderate-income residential areas that have not been attracting businesses, others already have been developed fully, and others are in places with poor road access. All these factors limit their development potential, commercial real estate experts say.
The current exception is the New Carrollton stop, at the end of the Orange Line in Landover. There, where the Metro system and Amtrak converge near Rte. 50, more than one million square feet of office space is being developed at the 62-acre Metro East project. Rouse Associates of Philadelphia has completed its Metro-Plex I and Metro-Plex II buildings, part of a compound of structures being developed there. In addition, a Holiday Inn is to go up there, and other proposals include convention facilities, a recreation complex and some retail stores, Derro said.
But the other four stops open in Prince George's--Cheverly and Landover on the Orange Line and Capitol Heights and Addison Road at the end of the Blue Line--do not lend themselves to this type of development, the experts say.
The Addison Road site may attract more investors soon because of a recent widening of the road there, and more interest is expected eventually at the Capitol Heights station, as well, said Gordon Hubley, marketing representative for the Prince George's Department of Program Planning and Economic Development. But they are located in low-income areas and still will have to overcome image problems to draw much business there, he added.
"It's something the local government and the citizens are going to have to work on. Development is not just going to spring up there like it did along the Beltway," Hubley said.
Far Northeast Washington, between the Anacostia River and the Maryland line, suffers from similar problems. Three stops on the two lines have opened, but these also have not produced much new development yet, city and private specialists say. At the same time, city officials are hoping that the Metro eventually will help them lure light industry to that area, particularly if they also add in the incentives of tax-favored Enterprize Zones along the lines of proposals made by the Reagan administration, said Richard Coward, special assistant to the director at the District Department of Housing and Community Development.
The stops that are proposed are not affecting development plans now because it will be such a long time before they are in operation. The stops on the southern portion of the Green Line have been held up with disputes over the route and funding problems, and probably will not be opening before the early 1990s, area officials said.
Prince George's County officials plan to meet next week with a Greater Washington Board of Trade special task force on Metro development to discuss what else can be done to attract businesses. Later business leaders will be brought into the discussions.
"The goal is to encourage the private sector to capitalize on the opportunities available at and near Metro sites," said task force member D. Eugene Hamme of Walker & Dunlop, commercial real estate specialists. The task force is not going to look at individual stops but wants to give overall assistance to the various local jurisdictions in planning a Metro-site development strategy, Hamme said. Prince George's County will be the first jurisdication to be dealt with individually, following up on a seminar for all jurisdictions last winter, he said.
Charles Dillon, chairman of the Prince George's County Economic Development Advisory Commission, said a large part of the problem with Metro-site development in the county is the need for better streets and highways. And Metro East, where the development is occurring, is already plagued by congestion, and access to Rte. 50 is "deplorable," he said.
"Metro-Plex brought a lot more people in there, aggravating the problem. That's an attractive area, but it's being choked to death" by the traffic situation, Dillon said. Getting funds from the state to improve the situation has proved difficult, as well, he added.
"You could spend a whole working career in just getting one road improvement done," he said.
But Fernando Barrueta, executive vice president in charge of leasing at Smithy Braedon, which leases Metro-Plex, said the traffic there never gets as bad as on L Street downtown. Prices in the suburbs are much better: about $15 a square foot in Prince George's compared with about $25 a square foot for comparable space in the District, Barrueta said. But access--including the subway, Amtrak, Rte. 50 and bus service--is "the main selling point" at Metro East, he said.
About one-third of those leasing at Metro-Plex relocated from downtown, another 10 to 20 percent came from Montgomery County, and the rest are from Prince George's or new to the area, Barrueta said.
A competitor in the area is the Maryland Trade Center Park. That complex is about two miles from the Metro station, but it is on the Beltway, where most of the Prince George's development has been concentrated so far. The developers there, Coakley & Williams, say they have an advantage over proximity to the Metro because they do not have a traffic congestion problem.
The developers have built one 16-story, 192,000-square-feet office tower, the highest in the county, and it is completely leased, said Brian K. Coakley, vice president for marketing. They will break ground in July on a 200-room hotel and in August will start construction on the second, 14-story office tower at the trade center, he said.
Craig Burton, Coakley & Williams vice president for leasing, said the Metro is good for those with a strong downtown employment base but that his market mainly is suburban dwellers who want to go to work in their cars.
"We are pulling people from downtown. People who live and work in the suburbs," Burton said. These include a number of software and service companies, as well as aerospace firms.
The decisions of another developer, Rozansky & Kay, show some of the reasons why Metro-site development has not boomed in Prince George's or Anacostia. Rozansky & Kay have focused much of their activity near Metro stops, but none of their projects is in either of those two areas.
Alan Kay, partner in the firm, said that the one Prince George's development they are doing is a 650,000-square-foot complex at Powder Mill Road and I-95.
"There are very few Metro stops that you can develop at that size," Kay explained. "Some areas could not handle it anyway, because of the rents we charge for luxury-type office buildings," he added. The lower-income residential areas would discourage businesses from coming in, he indicated.
"If it were big enough and close enough in and near enough to a Metro stop, we would certainly be looking at it," Kay said. "But there are none that fit that bill."
But that situation may be different at future Metro sites in Prince George's and Anacostia.
Julian Josephs, a Washington-based foreign investment consultant, says his clients will go for only the choicest spots, and he sees much future potential in Prince George's.
"We are actively trying to invest in projects in the county for the medium and long term," Josephs said. His clients are interested both in investment properties and sites on which to build, and they must be near a Metro stop or on the Beltway, he added.
Derro of the Maryland Parks and Planning Commission also said that there should be very good potential for rehabilitation and redevelopment around the West Hyattsville, College Park and Greenbelt stops when the operating day--now about 10 years down the line--approaches. This is because there will be large amounts of acreage available there to develop, he said.
Anacostia, meanwhile, is anxiously awaiting the operation of the Green Line, for better transportation to downtown and in hopes that it will bring in more businesses to provide jobs for people there. See P.G., E14 P.G., From E13 P.G. Metro Stop Development
Richard Coward of the District government says the city plans to supplement the pull of the subway line to businesses by repaving streets in some areas and with creation of enterprize zones. In addition, the city is going to spend $5 million in the next two to five years on commercial and residential redevelopment along Alabama Avenue, which should help attract new firms there, he said.
Some experts say that land in Anacostia and Prince George's has been and continues to be undervalued compared with future potential there. But they also say that little if any speculation is going on around the proposed Metro stops, either at those that have been determined or those still in dispute. This is because the completion date is so far away, and it costs too much to tie up money in land that long.