SUITLAND – The soft thunder of demolition echoed in the background as Monty Cooper, chair of the Board of Directors for the Redevelopment Authority (RDA) of Prince George’s County, spoke at the groundbreaking for the Towne Square at Suitland Federal Center.
“It’s a great sound,” he said.
It was fitting backdrop as state and county officials gathered in Suitland on Nov. 16 to mark the beginning of construction of a town center 20 years in the making.
The development, which will be certified as a sustainable site, will include 895 residential apartment housing units and single-family attachment homes, 98,000 square feet of new retail and a 50,000 square foot performing arts center. The $400 million project could create an estimated 12,000 construction jobs.
The development is within a mile of the Suitland Metro station and next to the Suitland Federal Center, which includes the U.S. Census Bureau, the Naval Maritime Intelligence Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite operations and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
“The people of Suitland, the people of Prince George’s County, we deserve this kind of development,” Cooper said. “This is our time for greatness.”
This project is unique in that the county government, through the RDA, acted as the master developer after the county was unable to attain a private developer interested in the project for a “reasonable price.”
Cooper said since 2000, it has taken RDA more than 160 property acquisitions to consolidate the site and has demolished 650 units of blighted residential housing.
Multiple speakers recognized the work the late Wayne Curry, Prince George’s County Executive from 1994 to 2002, did to instigate the project.
“It was Wayne Curry who invested in this community when people said, ‘have you lost your mind?’” County Executive Rushern Baker, III said. “He understood the opportunities that were waiting in this vibrant, great community.”
Baker said due to the crime and unemployment rates in the area in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the county had difficulty attracting developers for the project. Curry then allocated $50 million toward the town center.
After two failed proposals from private developers, Tom Himler, deputy chief administrative officer for the budget, suggested that the county government could act as the master developer.
“What we care about as a government is the quality of life in the community, and we can take a bigger risk. Soon as we did that, and we started to see some other projects around the county, then the interest from the outside came in.” Baker said. “But what we’ve seen now is that that risk that we took as a county to buy up the properties, to put out a bid, paid off.”
The Revenue Authority is investing $32 million in acquisition for this project, according to Peter Shapiro, executive director of the Revenue Authority.
Councilwoman Karen Toles, whose district includes Suitland, said the path forward with the project has not always been easy.
“I won’t tell you the stories that we had to endure to move this project forward, but we are here today. I had to use every negotiating tactic in the book,” Toles said. “I didn’t think we would get to this point. This is a day we’re all proud of. Our time is now. The work continues.”
Himler said he anticipates there will be further investment into the development.
“We’re not done yet,” he said. “The goal is to continue to put a little bit more money in acquisition, so we have enough property acquired, so we can change not just here, but we want to get a presence on Silver Hill too.”
He said the Revenue Authority will build, construct, manage, build and own an apartment building.
“All of this is about trying to change and bring a different demographic,” Himler said. “In order to attract retail, you have to bring up the income levels.”
He said housing prices will likely start at $350,000.
The development will be completed in three phases. The groundbreaking marked the start of the first phase, which includes grading and infrastructure construction, followed by the construction of townhouses and a senior apartment building in the spring. The second phase, which will comprise of the construction of apartments and two Net Zero Energy homes, will begin in 2020. The third phase will focus on the retail space and the performing arts center.
“This will change everything for this community,” Baker said. “The housing prices will rise up, you’ll see a mixed-use development, and this is just the beginning of it.”