The Washington Post

Hunt, Peebles passed on New Carrollton housing agency deal

Two big-name development firms, Hunt Development Group and Peebles Corp., came close to inking separate deals to partner with Temple Hills developer Carl S. Williams on construction of a mixed-use project anchored by the state housing agency in New Carrollton.

Instead, Williams’ project collapsed and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has issued a solicitation seeking new private sector partners.

The involvement of a major, well-financed developer might have rescued the project. Williams’ Grand Central Development was the state’s pick to build a new headquarters for the Department of Housing and Community Development, currently headquartered in Crownsville, and unveiled plans for a $500 million project with four floors of offices for the housing agency, 440 high-end apartments above and 45,000 square feet of ground-floor shops and restaurants.

The project would have delivered to Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III one of the county’s first mixed-use, transit-oriented developments.

When Grand Central was unable to finance the project on its own, Hunt Development came close to joining Williams as a partner. An affiliate of El Paso-based Hunt Cos., which has more than $13 billion in real estate under management, Hunt Development has built major local projects including Dulles Station in Herndon and Andrews Air Force Base housing.

Representatives for Grand Central Development and Hunt acknowledged lengthy discussions, but declined to comment further.

Don Peebles, a D.C. native who is chairman and chief executive of Peebles Corp., based in Coral Gables, Fla., said he considered the project because he thought it could be transformational for Prince George’s County.

“I think Carl came up with a visionary project, and he deserves credit for coming up with a visionary project in New Carrollton, when no one else had one,” Peebles said.

Peebles said the deal failed in part because Williams “was reluctant to bring someone else in until late in the game, late in the process.” But he also said financing a high-end development in an unproven commercial market such as Prince George’s was difficult.

“We’re in an environment where real estate is still really hard hit, so to get a transformational project like that supported and financed is challenging,” he said.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.



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