Developers: Prince George’s, land of opportunity -- Gazette.Net


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Prince George’s County in recent years has gained a more welcoming business atmosphere with greater opportunities, developers and other experts said at a panel discussion last week. That’s especially true in light of a new law approved earlier in the day that paves the way for a major casino in the county.

But one panelist said the county still has image problems.

“Folks have to go into this with their eyes open,” said Dick Knapp, senior vice president for Foulger-Pratt of Rockville. He spoke about potential “social issues” such as crime, and advised developers to ensure they are specialized in operating in this space.

Still, Foulger-Pratt recently paid $90 million for more than 1,000 residential units in Cheverly and Forestville, with the intent to rehabilitate them.

“We have no regrets and look forward to moving further into the southern part of the county,” Knapp said.

Montez Anderson, senior adviser for economic development for the county, called Knapp’s cautionary comments “misplaced.”

“It reflects a lack of knowledge of the county,” Anderson said. “He’s going on perception and that’s unfortunate.”

Other panelists unabashedly praised the county.

“I believe Prince George’s is one of the best bargains anywhere,” said Larry Hogan, president of the Hogan Cos. in Annapolis, which was founded in Prince George’s County. “Prince George’s is poised to really take off.

Hogan’s company recently purchased the 759-acre Smith Home Farm development in Upper Marlboro, which is the largest piece of the Westphalia mixed-use project.

Hogan was part of a six-panelist group that gathered to talk up the promise of Prince George’s during the Aug. 15 get-together at National Harbor hosted by Bisnow, a Washington, D.C., commercial real estate publication and events producer.

The star of the show was the Peterson Cos. of Fairfax, Va., developer of National Harbor. The company brought in Kenyatta Lewis, director of supplier diversity at MGM Resorts International of Las Vegas, to discuss the myriad opportunities in a Las Vegas-style casino that could come to the $4 billion Oxon Hill complex.

“When we set a mark, we meet the mark and exceed the mark,” Lewis said of MGM’s reputation for working with local and minority-owned businesses. “I have the honor of ensuring the community has an opportunity to meet the needs of the market.”

National Harbor hopes to bid for a Prince George’s casino license, should voters in November approve Maryland’s sixth slots location.

“Over the years, we’re trying to continually add to the activities people can partake in here,” said Jon Peterson, senior vice president of mixed-used development at Peterson Cos. “We think this is a site that will attract those from around the region, country and internationally.”

The county’s proximity to major thoroughfares, the federal government and the region’s highly educated workforce, plus available parking, all make it prime for luring retail tenants from neighboring jurisdictions, said Ken Smondrowski, director of leasing at Mack-Cali Realty of Edison, N.J. Mack-Cali owns 1.5 million square feet in the greater Prince George’s market, including the Capital Office Park in Greenbelt.

Panelists emphasized the change they have seen in the Prince George’s since Rushern L. Baker III (D) took over as county executive in late 2010.

Pre-Baker, getting a permit for his Woodmore Towne Centre in Glenarden took six years, said Walter Petrie, chairman of Petrie Ross Ventures of Annapolis, which developed the project.

“I can tell you there’s a night-and-day difference,” he said

Petrie added that Prince George’s remains below neighboring jurisdictions in per capita annual retail spending: $11,000, versus $18,000 in Anne Arundel County and $14,000 in Montgomery County.

Peterson also lauded Baker for his support of the National Harbor casino.

“Baker pulled his troops together and really made this happen,” he said.

He said National Harbor is only 30 percent complete and can look forward to many opportunities. About 8 million people visited National Harbor in 2011, Peterson said, and he looks forward to the new business that Tanger Outlets will bring when it opens.

As for Knapp’s comments, both Peterson and Petrie extolled their projects and their lack of crime.

“Prince George’s needs a PR program to talk about the good things here,” Peterson said. “We got to get retailers believing in Prince George’s.”

Panelists also discussed the need for government subsidies for public parking at projects, especially garages.

As usual, all panelists emphasized that the county’s 15 undeveloped Metro stations remain a major, untapped asset.

“The Beltway is Main Street and everyone wants to be on Main Street,” Peterson said.

lrobbins@gazette.net