Deron Lovaas has lived in College Park for more than 10 years and is tired of the revolving door of low-quality restaurants and lack of retail in the downtown area.
He just wants the opportunity to take his family out to a nice dinner and spend time in a bookstore.
There aren’t many “places where we can enjoy good coffee, good food and good music with family, and I think that’s something that College Park definitely needs and that’s something we’re looking forward to as more development comes to our town,” said Lovaas, 46.
With the upcoming developments, Lovaas likely won’t have to wait much longer to see College Park become the kind of college town he remembers loving during his time at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“There’s no reason that College Park can’t also compete with other world-class college towns, and we should push for that as residents and citizens,” Lovaas said.
University of Maryland and city officials are collaborating to improve these quality-of-life issues in the city as more projects get underway, College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn said.
Record-breaking fundraising has spurred unprecedented campus development projects, and the construction of a $150 million four-star hotel has attracted more companies and businesses to the city. College Park is on its way to becoming a “top college town,” said Ken Ulman, chief strategy officer for economic development.
ABOVE: The University of Maryland and College Park plan to build a mixed-use art house at the former site of The Barking Dog. (Rendering courtesy of MSR Design)
Live music, student performances and food that isn’t pizza will soon be joining the mix of bars and restaurants along Route 1.
The former site of The Barking Dog will be transformed into a multipurpose art house and restaurant as part of a public-private partnership between this university and the Philadelphia-based music venue Milkboy. The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center will sponsor musical performances, while Milkboy will book artists and provide customers with a full food and beverage menu.
This venue will come to embody the developing symbiotic relationship between this university and the city, said Omar Blaik, the founder of real estate development firm U3 Ventures.
“We have been thinking about uses that can be enjoyed by not only students and not only faculty and not only by community members, but all of them,” Blaik said. “That’s what great college towns are about — they don’t segregate; they combine.”
Since university President Wallace Loh took over in 2010, there’s been a renewed sense of collaboration between the city and university, Wojahn said.
“The county is a great place to do business, the city has shared our vision, and the [university] president has staked a lot for this overall greater College Park vision,” Ulman said. “The stars are aligned from the public and private sectors.”
The City of College Park and this university have also prioritized the vision of a Greater College Park, which has a three-pronged approach focusing on campus developments, public-private research collaborations and downtown projects.
In the past year, plans developed for the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation, companies announced moves to the M Square Research Park and Innovation District and construction began on The Hotel at the University of Maryland.
The university and city also worked on ways to attract more faculty and staff to the city — about 4.5 percent of university employees live in College Park — with a homeownership program that provides loans to cover a city home’s down payment and closing cost.
Eric Olson, executive director of the College Park City-Partnership, said the program is “on the right track.” By the end of this year, the homeownership program will have helped five university faculty and staff members close on homes throughout College Park, Olson said.
“You cannot be fully integrated if your faculty and staff are employees that come in the morning and leave in the afternoon, because then they are not part of the community; then there is no symbiotic relationship,” Blaik said. “By having more faculty and staff live in the community, you basically totally blur the line between us versus them.”
This university and the city worked together to establish a charter school, the College Park Academy, in 2013 with the goal of making the city — located in a county known for poor education — more attractive for families.
To bring more families, faculty and staff, the city is also focusing on creating more market-rate housing for professionals, said Miriam Bader, the city’s senior planner. Ongoing construction for market-rate apartments and townhomes include The Boulevard at 9091, Alta at Berwyn House and Monument Village.
“We are trying to encourage faculty and staff to live here rather than commuting because we are hoping to reduce the traffic on Route 1, so we are trying to encourage a walkable community,” Bader said.
New leadership has catalyzed a greater commitment toward collaboration between the city and the university. Former university President Dan Mote “never seemed particularly interested in collaboration with the city,” Wojahn said.
“Dr. Loh has willingness to engage and invest in the city, and [former] Mayor Fellows was the right person from the city to really reach across and make that bridge happen to work collaboratively with the university,” Wojahn said.
ABOVE: Cole Field House is undergoing a renovation that will transform it into a state-of-the-art indoor practice facility, which will also house academic and health centers. (Tom Hausman/The Diamondback)
This university has invested several million dollars in university relations over the past three years, university spokesman Brian Ullmann said.
The university’s College Park Foundation, which handles donations, recently hired about 25 staff members to increase not only the size of donations, but also the donor base, Ullmann said. This year, the university is working toward a goal similar to last fiscal year’s record-breaking donations, which totaled $200 million, he said.
More donors are engaged because of the university’s recent “prominence” with its projects on and off the campus, said Mary Burke, assistant vice president of university development.
“The good execution and the recent buzz — and there you go; that’s your magic sauce,” said Peter Weiler, this university’s vice president of university relations.
The university has four main donation-driven projects, all of which catalyzed over the past one to two years: the $155 million Cole Field House renovations, the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation, A. James Clark Hall and the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center.
Each of the four received major contributions from former university students. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank donated $25 million toward the Cole renovations; Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe donated $31 million toward the Iribe Center; A. James Clark donated $15 million toward Clark Hall; and Edward St. John donated $10 million toward the St. John Center.
Along with these large gifts, the number of donors increased. During the 2015 fiscal year, 41,000 people contributed money to this university, 7,000 more than in the previous year.
“There is no doubt that our campus is in the midst of a transformation,” Ullmann wrote in an email. “What’s remarkable about this boom is the role our alumni have played in making them a reality.”
ABOVE: The Hotel at the University of Maryland is one of many construction projects happening on Route 1. (Tom Hausman/The Diamondback)
After losing last year’s gubernatorial election with running mate Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Ulman, a former Howard County executive, said he looked for ways to improve the state’s economy.
“I kept coming back to the University of Maryland, which is a tremendous catalyst for economy,” Ulman told The Diamondback in December 2014.
In 2011 and 2012, the university and the city were facing a lot of “deep-rooted cynicism,” Blaik said. However, since Loh’s inauguration in April 2011, this university has stepped up “to revitalize its edges,” he said.
“When you are in places when the market is dormant, the conventional opinion is that nothing can happen here because nothing has happened here,” Blaik said. “There is always a reflection of the past to predict the future. We have several projects to demonstrate that our past does not indicate our future.”
After the university hired Blaik in 2011, he remodeled the East Campus project — a town center to be located at the current site of The Hotel — which would compete with downtown College Park, Blaik said.
Instead, Blaik, Loh and Ulman envisioned an Innovation District that would be tied to the research park located near campus, a place for future technology and other research experts to go after graduation. Ulman recruited startup companies to relocate to the city.
The Innovation District is located near The Hotel and close to the College Park Metro Station, which will make the walk to the Metro much “more inviting and enjoyable” and really “knit together the research park and Innovation District,” Ulman said.
“Our alumni have created some of the great companies in the country and almost none of them are located in College Park,” Ulman said. “We need a place for the companies that are starting on campus, we need a place for them to grow and thrive, we need a place to bring new companies that want to join us here.”
Some companies, such as battery developer FlexEl, need larger warehouses and facilities — which the city does not have — to accommodate manufacturing and labs. FlexEl was scheduled to relocate from College Park to Virginia because it needed more space; however, Ulman worked with the company to quickly remodel a larger facility nearby.
“There wasn’t a job for someone at this university to say, ‘You’re not leaving; we’ll find you something nearby,’ but [real estate] is very limited,” Ulman said. “FlexEl wanted to stay here and work collaboratively,” but it had a problem finding space.
The city and the university have “so much untapped potential” to attract and retain both small and large companies, Ulman said, but this will not be possible without “a great university town where faculty and staff want to live.”
“When you have an ecosystem that attracts businesses and the community, then those businesses want to stay instead of leave, and you end up with a very virtuous cycle,” Blaik said.
The Hotel also served as an anchor and catalyst that attracted other businesses to the area, Loh said. After its announcement, many other developers expressed interest in relocating to College Park.
“This was so important in ways that we never quite understood. The reason nobody came here before: They felt that the demand for their product … was not there,” Loh said. “They key turning point was we had requests for proposals and we had four or five bids from chains like Hilton or Marriott, all of them submitted bids on the condition it would be subsidized by the university. Once the governor approved, once he started The Hotel, then they started flocking in.”
The Hotel project is a 10-story hotel and conference center with 43,000 square feet of ballroom-style meeting space that will completely transform the city, Bader said.
The Hotel presents an opportunity for more and higher-quality conferences, restaurants and retail in the city, lifetime resident David Toledo said.
“There’ll be a lot more collaborative efforts and working with the university and real-estate developers to increase everything we have to offer here and really turn College Park into a legitimate college town,” said Toledo, 25.
The university and the city are doing “something incredible” by “luring” companies to the city, Ulman said during President Loh’s annual State of the Campus address.
“The good news is the phone is ringing, whereas two to three years ago, the phone wasn’t ringing,” Ulman said. “We’ve created a vision, we just need to carry it out. People are interested, there’s a buzz.”
In addition to the retail and restaurant space below The Hotel, Ulman said, the back of The Hotel will have space for companies that want to relocate to the city.
Many of these residential and hotel developments are also attracting retailers and restaurants to the city, said Randall Toussaint, the city’s economic development coordinator.
“[We are] creating a high standard of living for College Park, and attracting faculty and staff to live in the city and making College Park a top college town,” Wojahn said. “Looking for opportunities and looking for things that benefit the city and the university and quality development is an example of that. We could see a very different downtown College Park in the next five to 10 years.”
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story stated the university already exceeded fiscal year 2014’s record-breaking donations, which totaled $200 million. The university is working toward a similar goal this fiscal year, but it has not yet reached that number.
Carly Kempler and Hallie Miller are staff writers covering College Park and campus development, respectively, for The Diamondback. They can be reached at email@example.com and at @thedbk on Twitter.