Prince George's mishandled Metro stop growth, experts say

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Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

Prince George's County's development over the last decade has been anything but smart, regional experts say, as the county's quest to attract federal agencies has not spurred the type of redevelopment officials desire.

Agencies like the Census Bureau, located at the Suitland Metro station, and the Internal Revenue Service, stationed at New Carrollton, have failed to blend with the surrounding community, according to Cheryl Cort, policy director a the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

"[The Census Bureau] demonstrates that you can land 10,000 jobs on top of a Metro station and not spark transit-oriented development," Cort said. "The new building is a fortress and has no relationship with the outside world."

County Executive Rushern Baker has made development around the county's 15 Metro stations a top priority for his administration, and recently tapped a $50 million fund to help attract federal agencies.

But security issues at federal government buildings can give developers fits as they try to take advantage of the influx of thousands of employees, Cort said.

Security concerns prevent ground-floor retail from integrating with office space, and agencies often provide enough in-house amenities that give employees few reasons to leave the building.

IRS employees using Metro can take a pedestrian bridge from the station to their office building without every setting foot on the ground around New Carrollton.

And the Census Bureau provides a dining center, fitness center and on-site child care facilities. That makes it tough for retailers to benefit from employees who never leave federal enclaves.

The county may be best served by attracting more private corporations, according to Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

"They already have some federal enclaves, and they haven't produced anything to the benefit of Prince George's County," Fuller said.

There are signs of improvement -- Maryland's housing department plans to move to New Carrollton, and will bring with it retail, office space, apartments and a performing arts center.

County officials aren't putting all their eggs in one basket, according to Aubrey Thagard, a member of Baker's economic development team.

"We want to make this an attractive climate not just for a federal tenant, but for any major corporation coming to the region," Thagard said.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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