- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

With large mixed-use developments on the horizon and a growing educated work force, Prince George’s County has spruced up, laying the groundwork to live up to its latest promotional slogan, “Gorgeous Prince George’s.”

At various places where roads cross the county line are new brick welcome signs and lush plantings. One intersection near the Capital Beltway has hundreds of trees, shrubs and ornamental plants.

Named for Prince George of Denmark and home to tobacco farms and plantations in the mid-1800s, county historians place the founding of Prince George’s at 1696.

Today, Prince George’s County is a vibrant community of more than 800,000 residents. Between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the century, the number of farms in Prince George’s doubled, while the average farm size decreased dramatically, according to the Prince George’s County Historical Society (www. pghistory.org).

Many of the new smaller farms were operated by freed slaves and newcomers to the county, the historical society reports.

As the county’s agricultural population grew, better roads and rail service encouraged the growth of such new places as Suitland, Lanham, Glenn Dale, Huntington, Hyattsville, College Park and Brandywine.

Now recognized for being the wealthiest majority black county in the country, Prince George’s residents are enjoying a more diverse range of upscale businesses along with an array of new home developments.

A 2006 report on Prince George’s county demographic characteristics shows that the county is the second largest suburban Washington market in Maryland, only about 12 percent smaller than Montgomery County. It also contains the second largest number of households with incomes higher than $75,000 and adults with college and graduate degrees.

The centerpiece of the county’s growth is the National Harbor project, a 300-acre riverfront development in the works that is set to solidify the county as a destination location, according to the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp. (PGCEDC).

Located on the southern tip of the county in Oxon Hill, the project is estimated to cost $2 billion and includes hotels, office buildings, retail, shopping, restaurants and homes on the banks of the Potomac.

The PGCEDC says that Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center will be the largest facility of its kind on the East Coast. Gaylord National, as it is called, scheduled for a 2008 opening, will include a 1.65-acre, multilevel atrium with views of national monuments and Old Town Alexandria.

“The availability of affordable developed and undeveloped properties creates a superb environment for businesses to grow in Prince George’s County,” says Patricia Thornton of the PGCEDC. “I also believe that our proximity to Washington is a major attraction.”

The county comprises the heart of the Baltimore-Washington corridor. Most of the county is within 10 miles or less of downtown Washington. Baltimore is 37 miles north of the county line.

College Park, in northern Prince George’s, is set to open what the PGCEDC says is the largest research park in the state and one of the largest in the country.

Within a 293-acre area adjacent to the College Park/University of Maryland Metro station, and less than three miles inside the Beltway, the M Square research park campus is expected to produce 6,500 new jobs. It will have about 2.5 million square feet of public and private research and laboratory space.

Anchor tenants will be the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Weather and Climate Prediction and the University of Maryland Center for the Advanced Study of Language.

University Town Center in Hyattsville is offering a 14-screen, stadium-seating theater, restaurants including a brewery and sushi bar and upscale condominiums, once completed. A new student housing building was completed last year.

The new Woodmore Towne Centre at Glenarden is expected to include an upscale supermarket chain. At the interchange of the Beltway and Maryland 202, the development will include retail, residential, hotel, office space and a conference center.

The first new interchange on the Beltway in 20 years is located in Capital Heights and will serve the Steeplechase 95 International Business Park. Sites can accommodate buildings from 50,000 to 500,000 square feet and retail amenities including restaurants, banks and a gas station.

In addition, Capital Lighting and Supply plans to construct a 200,000-square-foot headquarters close to Andrews Air Force Base, creating an additional 135 jobs in the county. Andrews Air Force Base, near Clinton and Camp Springs, is a big contributor to the county’s economic growth as one of the major employers, county officials say.

Business mixes with pleasure in Prince George’s County. Six Flags amusement park in Largo, for example, is one of the county’s most popular attractions, according to the Prince George’s Conference and Visitors Bureau (PGCCVB). In Prince George’s, the Washington Redskins play their home games at FedEx Field. Cultural programs are featured at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Maryland.

The county is also home to attractions including the National Wildlife Visitor Center, Prince George’s Stadium, Showplace Arena, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the College Park Aviation Museum and Rosecroft Raceway.

Horse racing was an important part of Prince George’s history and began at the Marlborough Race Track. Thoroughbreds still run at Rosecroft in Fort Washington and in Laurel.

This progressive community has not lost touch with its roots. National Colonial Farm in Accokeek re-creates 17th-century agricultural life on banks of the Potomac River as an outdoor living history museum, demonstrating how it was to live on a middle-class tobacco farm in the 1700s.

The Billingsley House Museum is a brick Tidewater Colonial plantation house on 430 acres in Upper Marlboro. The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission says this house and land were named for Maj. John Billingsley, the original owner of the 1662 land grant. Although the home has been altered and modernized, it remains one of the oldest structures in Prince George’s County.

Other historic county homes include Dorsey Chapel, a 1900s meeting house for blacks in Glenn Dale; Laurel’s Montpelier Mansion, which was visited by George Washington; and Upper Marlboro’s Darnall’s Chance, which was the birthplace of John Carroll, the first American-born Roman Catholic archbishop.

Residents have varied housing options ranging from affordable condominiums to upscale homes. The Prince George’s County Association of Realtors places the median price for all homes in the county at $355,000, but a county demographics report puts base prices of newly constructed homes from $400,000 to higher than $800,000.

Model home parks throughout the county pack their parking lots every weekend.

Valerie Green of RE/MAX Colonial Homes in Fort Washington says she believes the Wilson Bridge and National Harbor projects have sparked thoughts of relocation to Fort Washington among many buyers.

“Because of the harbor and the waterfront that is in proximity to the harbor, the land surrounding this area has become very attractive for builders and for prospective buyers,” Ms. Green says. “I have a waiting list of buyers who are interested in living on the water and near the National Harbor.”

Meanwhile, newer developments seem to be popping up all over the county. At University Town Center in Hyattsville, 1 Independence Plaza has one- and two-bedroom condominiums ranging from the mid-$200,000s to the mid-$300,000s. They come with balconies, maple cabinetry and granite counters and are in walking distance of Metro.

Plaza Lofts 22, also at University Town Center, will feature natural wood floors, stone counters and interior finishes that will highlight steel and glass.

One National Harbor will be a new waterfront community on the Potomac with resort-style options and amenities. One-bedroom apartments start in the $300,000s; penthouses in the $600,000s.

“Recently the Fort Washington, Brandywine, Accokeek and the Upper Marlboro areas have become popular areas for custom- and luxury-home development,” Ms. Green says. She says various gated and equestrian communities have opened in Upper Marlboro and Accokeek.

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