College Park Development Update – January

The Development Update is a bi-monthly newsletter prepared by the City of College Park Planning, Community and Economic Development Department covering development activity in the City. This edition features updates on the Maryland Book Exchange redevelopment, Domain at College Park, Cafritz Property, and The Varsity. If you have any questions or would like to subscribe, please feel free to contact Michael Stiefvater at (240) 487-3543 or mstiefvater@collegeparkmd.gov.

November College Park Development Update

The College Park Development Update is a bi-monthly newsletter prepared by the City of College Park Planning, Community and Economic Development Department covering development activity in the City. Please feel free to distribute this information as you see fit. Questions or comments can be directed to Economic Development Coordinator Michael Stiefvater at (240)487-3543 or msteifvater@collegeparkmd.gov.

The Varsity at College Park to Open on Sept 6

Varsity
Varsity

The Varsity at College Park (8150 Baltimore Ave) is finally ready to open for this fall semester.

Potomac Holdings, the owners, will be hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony to launch the property on Tuesday, September 6, 1 – 3 p.m.

Speakers will include Dr. University of Maryland president Wallace Loh, Prince George’s County vice chair Eric Olson, and Prince George’s County executive Rushern Baker, III.

In addition to speakers, there will be guided tours and refreshments available at Looney’s Pub and tours of the building. Please RSVP to Kate Kuhlman at kate@bendurepr.com by September 3.

Questions Arise with the Varsity’s Wall

Construction continues on The Varsity and Starview, College Park’s next-in-line for undergraduate, off-campus student housing.  The progress is beginning to show how the new buildings will improve Route 1’s streetscape.
The Varsity:varsity full
Starview:starview full

The Varsity has begun installation of a wide sidewalk stretching south from the main entrance toward the bridge passing over Paint Branch Trail. The new sidewalk is much wider than the current sidewalk and provides a buffer of about 12 feet from the heavy traffic on Route 1. Land has also been cleared for the long-awaited Northgate Park located to the south of building along Paint Branch Creek.
varsity sidewalk 2

However, questions remain about the imposition of a wall fronting Route 1 that will separate pedestrian traffic from the retail entrances located on the ground floor of the Varsity. Councilman Bob Catlin has informed us that the reason for the wall is to prevent these retail establishments from falling within the Paint Branch flood plain. This Diamondback article makes reference to similar concerns raised by council members at the time of the project’s approval several years ago.

A recent site visit indicates that the wall is 5 to 6 feet tall and stretches the entire length of the building fronting Route 1, potentially disengaging pedestrians from the building and the retail that locates there.

varsity wall 2
varsity steps 2


As the Route 1 corridor continues to develop, pedestrian traffic will be an integral part of the streetscape and retailers will depend on passing foot traffic for a significant portion of their business. Long, blank walls discourage an active street scene and break down lines-of-sight between storefronts and pedestrians—all negative elements that undermine the advantages of ground floor retail.

It appears that there will be three staircases leading up to the first-floor storefronts, but this may not be enough to entice passerby if they are unable to see the actually see what’s going on inside. Active and entertaining streets create a lively pedestrian environment, and active streetscapes and successful retail corridors are made possible when stores and outdoor seating are directly accessible and visible to passing pedestrian traffic. Visually appealing window displays and an abundance of activity entice pedestrians into stores.

An active, enticing streetscape:
Potential Streetscape

Walls serve as barriers to this visual appeal. They prohibit the instinctive curiosity pedestrians possess that causes them to stop, peruse, enter, and patronize. Hopefully, the Varsity will draw an abundance of strong anchor tenants that will create a “destination location” and overcome the wall’s design flaws.

“You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a high-end hotel”

The Varsity, a student housing project set to open Fall 2011, has just launched its leasing website. They appear to have taken a page from Mazza GrandMarc’s cheesy marketing campaign, but then they took it to a whole new level.



They’re selling a lifestyle and experience rather than housing (complete with tanning beds, a game room, and fitness center):

College life is full of events you’ll remember forever. Many of the memories you will create with friends will happen where you live. At The Varsity, we believe your apartment is not just a place to keep your stuff and sleep in at night; it is an experience. We have worked hard to create a student housing community that is all about you… sophisticated yet down-to-earth, edgy yet classic, luxurious yet comfortable and private.

The Varsity at College Park Lobby

Looney’s Pub Coming to The Varsity

Still sad about losing Santa Fe? Don’t be. The Varsity has signed up Looney’s Pub to occupy a location in its ground floor retail location. This is a prime location for a new bar/restaurant. As a frequent visitor to Baltimore watering holes in a previous life I can vouch for Looney’s as a great bar. Plus it was featured in the 2004 blockbuster movie Ladder 49 staring John Travolta. What more could you ask for?

This will be the first of 10 or so tenant announcements for the four student housing projects currently under construction on Route 1. Here is the approximate phasing (although stores won’t necessarily open at the same time the buildings are finished):

Fall 2010
University View II (11,600 SF of Retail)

Fall 2011
The Varsity (20,000 SF)
Starview Plaza (9,580 SF)

Fall 2012
Mazza GrandMarc (10,000 SF)

Updated Varsity Renderings and Construction Time-Lapse

The Varsity

Here are a few updated renderings of The Varsity project near the main entrance of the UMD campus. These images provide us with not only the latest glimpse of what the building will look like, but also its relation to Northgate Park which was redesigned during the development review process after a land swap between UMD, MNCPPC and the developer (the building is built right on top of what was originally proposed as a publicly-owned rain garden). We also found this great time lapse camera from the construction site.

While the design doesn’t push the architectural envelope, it is another welcome improvement in the Northgate Development District. The Varsity will add to the increasingly urban feel for the part of Route 1 next to the University View complex. The retail tenants for the ground floor are still a mystery, but any enhancement to the business climate should be a plus. We don’t generally weigh in on architectural issues, but RTCP is concerned that the color schemes used for The Varsity, University View, and Starview Plaza are all nearly identical. Including some distinguishing color schemes along Route 1 could add some some vibrancy and avoid a potentially monotonous built environment.  A vibrant color scheme will let people know they have actually stepped off campus into the City of College Park. Going forward, perhaps there can be more emphasis on distinctive color schemes during the planning phase for new projects.

The Varsity

Fundamentals of CP Student Housing Still Strong

Street Pattern

Of the seven active construction projects (listed on our area projects by number page) in College Park right now, five of them are student housing. The other two are University-led office buildings in M-Square. Indeed, there is an unprecedented amount of dirt moving on Route 1 right now; proving that while the national economy may still be floundering, CP student housing fundamentals are still strong. If you include South Campus Commons #7 (which was just completed near Van Munching Hall) we’re witnessing the completion of about 3,600 public, private, and public-private (partnership) student beds over the course of about 3-4 years. That’s an incredible number when you consider that the first six Commons buildings and the first phase of University View only amounted to 2,925 beds.

This surge in construction has led some to speculate that perhaps we’ll witness a student housing bubble since all of these units are dedicated student housing and totally separate from the larger area rental market. These developers who are breaking ground don’t seem to think so. We think it’s too early to tell, but a bubble wouldn’t be such a bad thing for student rents. Otis Warren’s planned University View phase III (8350-8400 Baltimore Ave. in image above) which will house about 1000 beds is apparently stalled because of market conditions (they leased out their 8400 Baltimore Ave office building for another year). UMD is also holding tight on Commons #8. If either of these projects get moving again in 2011 or soon thereafter, it will be a clear indication that developers and financiers still see profit potential in student high rises.

Here is a construction rundown: Continue reading Fundamentals of CP Student Housing Still Strong

Speaking of Eminent Domain… City Looks to Seal the Deal on #1 Liquors

U View and #1 Liquor
Apparently, the city’s patience with #1 Liquors is wearing thin. After nearly a decade of begging, prodding, and cajoling tactics, councilmembers are starting to contemplate eminent domain proceedings on College Park’s most infamous homestead holdout. According to the Diamondback the city would like to acquire the parcel in order to create “a park”:

The council voted last night to try to buy the property or to try to get it condemned if its owner refuses to sell. Some View residents said they would miss the store’s convenient location and were skeptical of plans to create such a tiny park.

The lot is a questionable location for a new park seeing as the City-University partnership is creating the 5-acre North Gate Park just south of the liquor store where Paint Branch Stream Northgate District (looking towards campus)passes under Route 1. But the plan may be the city’s only real means to get rid of the squat one-story building in the emerging North Gate Development District. The store would be surrounded on three sides by major development in the area that includes the University View’s nearly complete complex and Mark Vogel’s planned 700-bed Varsity Student Housing project. The area is but one small glimmer of hope in College Park’s otherwise grim real estate environment. Perhaps the store owner would have been wise to take an offer for a ground floor retail spot in the University View’s new building. They would have had a captive audience of literally thousands of students in complexes either planned, approved, or already built.

Incidentally I just did a lengthy post at TheCityFix.com about eminent domain and a recent New York State court case that has catapulted the controversial issue back into the public spotlight. As I explain in the post, the tool can benefit communities, but it has several pitfalls. Councilwoman-elect Christine Nagle put it well in her quote in the Diamondback article where she expressed her disagreement with the city’s plan to remove businesses it “just doesn’t like”:

“We’re just starting Route 1 redevelopment,” Nagle said. “How many little parks are we going to have? Every time someone doesn’t make a deal?”

Continue reading Speaking of Eminent Domain… City Looks to Seal the Deal on #1 Liquors