The Knox Box Area Rethought

Before Site Plan

Brian CarrollThe Knox Box area is commonly cited as one of the College Park neighborhoods most in need of new development. Located immediately adjacent campus and downtown, it is one of the few areas where local political leaders, administrators, and students alike would like to see additional student housing. In October we posted about a Diamondback story describing how many of the properties were being acquired by one owner — the first step to any potential redevelopment. Architecture Masters’ Student Brian Carroll is one of the people who has been thinking about the potential of this area. Two weeks ago he defended his thesis, before an audience of faculty, students, and administrators.

Campus ConnectionHis plan proposed to re-design the district in College Park seen above which includes the Knox Box area and part of downtown (including the College Park Shopping Center). After carefully considering the site’s connections to campus (left) and the high demand for both student, faculty, and staff housing near campus, his proposes re-designing the street system significantly and building a number of new buildings built right up to the street. The site plan looks like this:

After Site Plan

The design would add over 900 units of housing to the area and proposes 75,000 square feet of retail space. His thesis described the building that would replace the College Park Shopping Center in great detail — he proposes to bury the parking in the core of the structure:

Building Profile

What do you think of Brian’s ideas?

10 thoughts on “The Knox Box Area Rethought”

  1. Redeveloping that entire side adjacent to campus would be great, however, I don’t foresee anyone with the ability and resources needed to acquire the two College Park Towers buildings – if I am not mistaken, they are condo’s that require little upkeep and are likely very profitable to the owners. Consolidating the knox ownership is one thing, but getting all the Towers is another.

    If the Towers and CP Shopping center could be rebuilt as indicated above, downtown CP would start to look and feel like a great college town.

    Would love to see more of Brian’s plan.

  2. It’s tough to tell quite what he is proposing because the pics are so small. I clicked on them to enlarge but they are listed as private.

    Obviously the Knox Box area needs major redevelopment. Most likely some or all of them will be torn down and the developer will be able to start from scratch. I realize that this proposal is mainly an academic exercise, but so many things would have to fall into place to make it feasible that it borders on completely unrealistic. Things that need to be addressed:

    1) Getting current Knox Box owners to sell. I know that Janet Firth is buying up a whole bunch of them, possibly with the intent to tear them down and develop the area. But there are still quite a few owned by other people, and I’m sure they make a pretty good profit on them. Market prices for the Knox Boxes could be high, especially if owners know development is in the works.

    2) What about Knox & Hartwick Towers? They seem to be gone in the site plan. Because the units in the Towers are all condos, you’d be dealing with a huge number of owners if you wanted to tear them down. No doubt this would be expensive and extremely time-consuming.

    3) I’m not sure how realistic it is to demolish the College Park Shopping Center. That’s some of the highest-rent retail space in College Park, no doubt. Obviously this plan would add a ton of retail space ultimately, but where would Chipotle, Wawa, CVS, Starbucks, etc. be in the interim? Construction could take a couple of years, especially considering the huge hole that would have to be dug for this underground parking garage. Also, wouldn’t construction be a nightmare for CP traffic? I think it’s more realistic to tear down the bank and build a building up close to Route 1, leaving the old Shopping Center intact.

    Basically, I obviously don’t know much about this plan except what was in the post, but it seems to some extent that it’s got a certain “SimCity” quality to it, as if we were just building a new neighborhood from scratch. We have to keep in mind that we are improving on an already existing neighborhood, not constructing a completely new one. Even the best funded developers would have a tough time buying up all the properties that we’re talking about redeveloping (Knox Boxes, Towers, and CPSC). I mean, if the University View people can’t even get Number One Liquors to move, what chance does a developer have of getting Chipotle to move out of what is rumored to be its highest grossing location nationwide?

  3. I think this looks very good, however, it also looks like it would take the better part of forever to accomplish. The change would do that area good, but I doubt that all of those businesses and other existing retail are likely to concede to essentially shutting down for however long this would take (months, years?). I am also somewhat skeptical of the parking buried in the middle, does anywhere else have such a plan, and if so, do they have the amount of crime this area experiences?

    On another note, when I click to expand the pictures, Flickr or whatever does not allow me to do so.

  4. I just wanted to respond to a few of the comments made above. First, this is an academic exercise and therefore allows me the lattitude to propose an idealized solution. I am not sure what the issue is with the images, but anyone is welcome to look at drum.umd.edu where my complete thesis document is located, (and if this is not sufficient I can provide full resolution images).I must agree that taking down the towers while they are under condo ownership is probably unrealistic, but there are other aspects of this project that are not. The road frontage for the College Park Shopping Center and Kinkos is under one owner. And I think that the comment that this is some of the highest rent property in College Park, and therefore couldn’t be redeveloped is completely missing the point. This is a one story retail facility with almost two thirds of the space occupied by surface parking. In addition, the failure to build along route 1 has contributed to the lack of coherent image for our downtown. The fact that this parcel is so value make the need to maximize the use of the site much more important. This is a high rent site that is totally underutilized and generating 20% of the cashflow that it could. In reference to parking in the center of a retail/residential block, this has become the norm in many cases. There is no need to occupy precious retail frontage with a parking garage. In terms of safety, having 200 feet of parking garage along a street as opposed to a restaurants or shops the latter is almost certainly safer. It is accepted STED (Safety Through Environmental Design) practice to increase safety by having more “eyes on the street”. The more people that live shop work in an area, the fewer dark corners there are for crime. Criminals are cowards, and they do not like witesses.

    Finally in terms of being able to consolidate the entire slate of Knox Boxes this may not happen, but when a sufficient number are controlled by developers, I have simply thrown out a possible idea as to what the density might be, as well as some ideas on keeping the buildings flexible.

    I have to agree that the idea of enacting my ideas out of whole cloth are not realistic, however, I have done more than my due dilligence in exploring the issues surrounding this site. It is one of the most cpieces of property in our area. This site can satisfy the needs of retailers, students, the university, the City and the homeowners. While there appear to be some naysayers above, the larger point is that the community needs to realise that addressing the desperate housing shortage even 1 mile down the road will keep people in their cars. Further keeping the retail configured in the way that it is, will prevent Colege Park for having the identity that State Colege, Princeton, Ann Arbor and other great college towns enjoy. This is a critical node in the evolution of College Park as a healthy town. If my thesis can simply sereve as a point of departure for further discussions, or as I have put it in the past “something to throw darts at” I will feel that I have done my job. There are tremendous obstacles that the city needs to overcome, but the will, the need and the property values are there. A great university like UMD will be enhanced by a great downtown and better housing.

  5. A lot of the proposal is up for debate, but I think that is the point isn’t it? Great work Brian. I especially like the connections to the campus and the vastly improved street grid. If the Knox redevelopment bears any resemblance to this proposal the project will be a tremendous asset to College Park. Rob has fixed the picture link and I’ll be sure to do a post on the thesis when I get some time.

  6. Thanks Brian for designing and explaining and defending your plan for the redevelopment of the Knox Box area. It is critical for the City to have a “big picture” approach for the redevelopment of this area, because the redevelopment will, in all certainty, be done in piecemeal fashion. We need to have a vision rather than just to react defensively to the piecemeal approaches which are to come.

    I see the City’s likely construction of a parking garage and retail behind the Cornerstone/Bentley’s in summer 2008 as providing the catalyst for the addition of more retail or even the redevelopment of existing retail properties on the other side of Route 1. Lack of parking is the largest obstacle to retail redevelopment, but with a reasonable fee-in-lieu for parking in place and 250 additional parking spaces available, some additional retail development can occur which would reduce existing surface parking.

  7. Brian,

    I searched for you at the DRUM website but didn’t find you as an author. Is the document posted yet?

  8. Brian

    This is Kevin Fallon – the alum that you met after that incredible day long SGA session in April. Sorry we never connected – bummer.

    I dont think the high level concept of Brian’s work is as unrealistic as you think. The only limits are the ones we place on ourselves.

    1. Temporary relocation of businesses:

    – If you look comprehensively at Downtown CP or even the US 1 corridor from Beltsville south to Hyattsville (beyond just the Knox Box Area) and form a joint redevelopment corporation (cooperation btwn City – State – Univ and MNCPPC) – complete with an “IPO” – give priority shares to owners of Knox Boxes and CPT condos as well as give them first dibs at purchasing new properties “pre-market” (make it so that “everybody wins”)

    The Univ has several influential leaders up in NYC with Wall Street firms – as an investment vehicle this is very attractive given the risk-reward tradeoff (the U of Md is not going to fold up and go out of business – hence the market will always be there) PLUS look at our prominent alums in Construction and Real Estate (James A Clark and Robert H Smith just to name a few)

    This will provide the massive amount of capital to pursue such a bold plan.

    Next, develop retail space on the lot behind the MBX (US 1 and College Av – NE corner) – put the CP SC retail outlets there while the area is redeveloped then relocate them back (relo costs funded by the CP Redevelopment Corporation……which BTW has heavy participation from the Md B-School Faculty, MBAs and Undergrads as well as Schools of Arch and Engineering

    THIS CAN BE DONE. I HAVE SPENT 10 YEARS UP HERE ON WALL STREET SOWING THE SEEDS FOR THIS. The interest is here. We just need to get it going. Big time potential to create not only the college town of our dreams but to also create an academic program for students that would be the envy of all of our peers. WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR? I have “floated” this idea to Dean Frank (B-school) and have his Ear. It also has the attention of the President’s office. I have been working on Mayor Brayman and Terry Schum.

    Anyone on this site should always feel free to contact me. OUR DREAMS WILL BECOME REALITY. LET NOTHING STAND IN OUR WAY.

    973. 367. 2151
    kevin.fallon@prudential.com

  9. That’s a great vision for College Park, Brian. Some of it can be accomplished, especially, if the university, the county and the city get on the same page. They had great success redeveloping the neighborhood of Ohio State University and that’s in the middle of Columbus.

    It’s really a question of political will. The critiques are right that there are obstacles but that does not mean that we need to abandon your vision.

    Personally, I would love to see a town square. Something as simple as shutting down the parking lot of the College Park shopping centers and put out some chairs for outside restaurant, the quality of life in College Park would double.

  10. I want to first state that I think it is magnificent that a young mind who still attends the University of Maryland has taken such an interest in advancing its quality of living towards the end of his career. Not only did he take interest, but he staked his entire graduate degree on it, when most graduate students are looking to just move away from the bars and into nearby homes where they can work and sleep like normal human beings. Brian Carroll has proposed what seems to be a beautiful and full design for the area known as the Knox Boxes. There are many flaws that seem to fit his plan though, seeing that these days our students are in such a housing crisis.

    The first issue that caught my attention and the attention of some others who commented is the loss of Knox Towers and Hartwick Towers. Here’s the thing:
    • There are now two high rise buildings
    • Each has 8 floors
    • Each floor has 21 rooms
    • And on average, each room house 3-4 people (we’ll say 3.5 for the math)
    • That’s 2 X 8 X 21X 3.5 = 1,176 students displaced. That’s about 300 more students than Elkton Hall holds. In order to make up these figures with duplex and flat apartments, there better be some pretty cramped places.
    Honestly though, for a school with such an important issue, you’d think the problem would be obvious. Now, as for the rest of the area, these buildings just don’t fly up when Mote and the City of College Park sit down to have coffee and agree that they are a good idea.

    Another concern of mine is efficient Land Use in the area. I do believe its being used for the right reasons, but is it being used to it’s fullest capacity. With the building’s place right up to the street, which may violate multiple zoning laws but and other issue’s regarding existing underground water works, the central garden will be maximized. How lovely, but once again are we fully engaging the issue of the housing crisis. Could one more set of apartments be bumped out or added to maximize efficiency and still allow a common yard?

    Construction of such a vast plan would take years to complete and the store fronts would take time to fill and to prep for the lucky new owners. In my current course ENCE 320 (I’m a civil engineering major) we take the entire semester to look at what goes into just planning a project. Many of us have witnessed the “lightning speed” with which simple re-facing projects are completed on campus. Even the Engineering building has untied ends and it was supposed to be completed years ago. As I have learned in class, there is much more that goes into the management of an issue than pretty drawings. They include initial bidding, proposals, initiation, quality control, zoning issues, quality control, safety issues, resource management ( not just money) but how will effect the rest of us if they tear apart a water main our knock out power to the local grid.

    My favorite part of this plan has to be the parking solution and that statement is honest from start to finish. It is a brilliant, difficult but brilliant nonetheless idea to hide parking all together behind buildings and underground. What is the difference to you if you go down or up when you park, its still just and elevator ride or a few steps from your destination and it will provide a safer less hectic method of parking. Great idea Brian. Over all, this plan is very appealing, and I think it could raise the student’s standard of living, but I think it needs a reality check as well.

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