Hope lingers, de­spite halted FBI de­vel­op­ment

What types of busi­nesses will the two large parcels in Prince George’s at­tract now?

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY ARELIS R. HERNÁNDEZ AND JONATHAN O’CON­NELL

Prince George’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have so of­ten in­voked plans for a new FBI head­quar­ters com­plex as one of the county’s eco­nomic tri­umphs that it al­most felt like a done deal.

County Ex­ec­u­tive Rush­ern L. Baker III (D) even in­cluded the project when de­scrib­ing $12 bil­lion in pro­jected in­vest­ment dur­ing his two terms in of­fice — a fit­ting nar­ra­tive for his nascent gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign.

Then the fed­eral gov­ern­ment pulled the plug.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion last week to halt a new head­quar­ters con­tract caught Baker and other politi­cians by sur­prise and left res­i­dents and lo­cal busi­ness own­ers won­der­ing what other projects could be lured to the large parcels in Green­belt and in Lan­dover that were fi­nal­ists in the FBI’s search (the third fi­nal­ist was in Spring­field, Va.).

County of­fi­cials had hoped a head­quar­ters com­plex would trig­ger the kind of trans­for­ma­tive growth that the Pen­tagon did when it was built in Ar­ling­ton decades ago. Now they are wait­ing to see whether the Gen­eral Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tive may pur­sue a smaller FBI re­lo­ca­tion that would still work for one of the parcels.

And they say they are pre­pared to keep push­ing for­ward with their de­vel­op­ment strat­egy of at­tract­ing big busi­ness and gov­ern­ment agen­cies to the county, which sits just east of the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

“This won’t de­ter us,” said Baker’s top eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment aide, David Ian­nucci. “The FBI would’ve been a crit­i­cal, won­der­ful, once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity, but it’s a lost op­por­tu­nity, not a neg­a­tive.”

Each Prince George’s site has spe­cific chal­lenges that could have county offi-

cials work­ing from scratch to at­tract in­vestors there.

The 82-acre Green­belt prop­erty is mostly com­posed of Metro park­ing lots con­trolled by de­vel­oper Re­nard De­vel­op­ment through an agree­ment with the tran­sit agency, which would have been in­cluded in an FBI deal. That prospec­tive part­ner­ship could dis­solve with­out a large em­ployer in­ter­ested in the site.

Garth Beall, man­ager of Re­nard, said he would be watch­ing closely in the com­ing weeks to see if the GSA and FBI quickly restart the search in some way that could make Green­belt vi­able, but he was not op­ti­mistic. “This thing could eas­ily slip years,” he said.

Al­though Re­nard and the county have spent more than $1 mil­lion on in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments and set aside more rev­enue to make the prop­erty “shovel-ready,” en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns and the need for a new high­way in­ter­change could push the cost of de­vel­op­ing the area above what any busi­ness would want to pay.

At the same time, the vis­i­bil­ity of the site and its prox­im­ity to mass tran­sit would make the prop­erty a tempt­ing lo­cale for a global or na­tional cor­po­ra­tion, or a cy­ber­se­cu­rity firm seek­ing prox­im­ity to the state’s flag­ship univer­sity.

“It re­ally has to be some­thing that is siz­able enough to jus­tify those ex­pen­di­tures,” Beall said. “The prop­erty is a blank slate.”

Green­belt Mayor Em­mett Jor­dan said more than 1,000 peo­ple have moved into newly con­structed res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties at the south end of the Metro sta­tion’s prop­erty. City of­fi­cials and lo­cal busi­ness own­ers had hoped the FBI head­quar­ters would help jump-start com­mer­cial rede­vel­op­ment to serve those new res­i­dents.

“I’m not sure peo­ple who are liv­ing there moved to be next to the FBI, but to be near the Metro sta­tion,” Jor­dan said. “We are still open for busi­ness.”

Lan­dover is the 88-acre home to a de­mol­ished shop­ping mall owned in part by Lerner En­ter­prises, the real es­tate firm of Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als owner Theodore N. Lerner.

The prop­erty has sat al­most empty for nearly 15 years, a weeded-over park­ing lot with jer­sey bar­ri­ers and chain-link fenc­ing lin­ing the perime­ter.

Over­grown shrub­bery par­tially blocks the prop­erty’s new­est fea­ture, a bill­board read­ing: “Home to Fu­ture De­vel­op­ment, Prince George’s County Con­tin- ues to Grow.”

The Lern­ers years ago pur­sued a re­gional hos­pi­tal com­plex for the prop­erty — a project that is now be­ing built in Largo. They have con­sid­ered hous­ing, as well.

Ex­ec­u­tives from Lerner En­ter­prises, which was also a fi­nal­ist to build the now-can­celed project, were not avail­able to com­ment, a spokes­woman said.

But for­mer state del­e­gate Jo­lene Ivey, who did com­mu­nity re­la­tions work for the Lern­ers’ bid, said the prop­erty re­mains a great value for any in­vestor seek­ing a large par­cel with ac­cess to ma­jor road­ways and down­town Wash­ing­ton.

“I can’t see why it can’t at­tract another big project,” she said. “Why wouldn’t the fed­eral gov­ern­ment want to put some­thing there that would be a mon­eysaver in the long run?”

Lyric Hawkins scouted out the lo­ca­tion for her day care, Rock­star Prep 4 Kids, be­fore she knew the FBI could be­come a neigh­bor.

But when she read up on the pro­pos­als for a 2.1 mil­lion­square-foot cam­pus ca­pa­ble of serv­ing 11,000 em­ploy­ees, Hawkins pre­pared for a ma­jor boost in busi­ness at her store­front in the nearly empty Lan­dover Cross­ing strip mall.

“It was def­i­nitely on my radar. I fig­ured that the FBI em­ploys lots of peo­ple, and at least half of them have to have kids,” said Hawkins, who plans to make the day care a 24-hour op­er­a­tion for par­ents who work late shifts. “But now I’ve got to scratch that off my list.”

Long Ho’s Low­est Price Auto Ser­vice is the only busi­ness at the site of the old Lan­dover Mall.

He had hoped to be bought out by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment if the FBI head­quar­ters was built there.

“I was ex­pect­ing to get paid,” Ho said, laugh­ing. “But no, we are still work­ing like nor­mal, try­ing to re­as­sure our cus­tomers that we are still here. If the FBI’s not com­ing, we ex­pect some­thing else will hap­pen [on the prop­erty] soon.”

Ch­eryl Cort, pol­icy di­rec­tor for the Coali­tion for Smarter Growth, said Prince George’s re­mains well-po­si­tioned to re­ceive top con­sid­er­a­tion from fed­eral agen­cies seek­ing space close to Metro sta­tions, es­pe­cially if the county gov­ern­ment fo­cuses on cre­at­ing the kind of neigh­bor­hoods where to­day’s fed­eral em­ploy­ees want to work and live.

“We should be look­ing at in­te­grat­ing large em­ploy­ers with a more walk­a­ble, mixed-use en­vi­ron­ment. We can do that at Green­belt and other Metro sta­tions,” Cort said. “De­sign­ing pub­lic spa­ces and streets can cre­ate a sense of place that can at­tract em­ploy­ers, but it’s im­por­tant the county con­tin­ues to shape that.”

Terry Clower, di­rec­tor of George Ma­son Univer­sity’s Cen­ter for Re­gional Analysis, said the can­cel­la­tion of the project may mean that de­vel­op­ers pause to re­assess the risk be­fore jump­ing into fu­ture fed­eral deals.

But by their very na­ture, he noted, de­vel­op­ers are op­ti­mists and will do what they can to land their next op­por­tu­nity.

“Noth­ing is cer­tain with these projects,” Clower said. “Any­one com­pet­ing for any ma­jor pres­ence in the mar­ket or cor­po­rate head­quar­ters knows this. Some win, some lose.”

Robert McCart­ney, Jenna Port­noy and Kather­ine Shaver con­trib­uted to this story.

THE WASH­ING­TON POST

ARELIS HERNÁNDEZ/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

For nearly 15 years, the site of the for­mer Lan­dover Mall in Prince George’s County has been al­most va­cant. County of­fi­cials were hope­ful the site would be the home for a new FBI head­quar­ters.

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