At long last this spring, the university should break ground on East Campus, a planned town center across from the campus.
The project, which would include graduate student housing, restaurants, a hotel and retail, had been in discussions for about a decade before a budget crisis brought planning to a halt two years ago. Originally slated for completion in 2010, the East Campus project picked up speed last year when officials began relocating services to the Severn Building and other facilities .
“Some days it seems like it’s not going as quickly as we all hoped, but the progress is measurable and each day we get a day closer,” Facilities Management Associate Vice President Carlo Colella said, who added the project will take up about 22 acres.
The recent lull in updates on the project is not a result of another stand-still — Administrative Affairs Vice President Rob Specter said officials are continuing their work moving facilities from the East Campus site’s north side and expect plans to progress further within a year.
“We’ll see dirt moving yet this year on East Campus,” Specter said.
After the university wraps up negotiations with project developer Cordish Companies, which Specter said could happen in a matter of weeks, university officials will seek approval for the project from the Board of Regents.
The university has so far committed millions of dollars to the project — at least $27 million to relocate facilities, along with $5 million from the state — but Specter said there have not been any further developments in securing funding.
A public forum is scheduled for November, likely before Thanksgiving, to update faculty, staff and students, and administrators will present their progress to the College Park City Council in late fall or early winter. The last public forum on the project was in 2010.
“I think it’s really important that we re-engage the students, faculty and staff,” Specter said. “I think it’s important that we reach out again.”
Over the summer, the university moved the Shuttle-UM site to Paint Branch Drive, near the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex, and relocated the campus mail facility, according to Colella. By the end of the semester, motor transportation services will be relocated to two recently renovated areas, he added.
Most facilities in the area should be in their new locations by April, with the exception of one smaller building whose function will move a few months later, Specter and Colella said, clearing up about 11 acres.
University President Wallace Loh has said developing the area across from the campus is necessary to make the city a top-20 college town. But before College Park achieves that status, university and city officials will continue their push for other major initiatives, such as the addition of the Purple Line — a proposed $1.7 billion light-rail train that would connect Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — and the creation of the College Park Academy Public Charter School.
Prince George’s County District 3 Councilman Eric Olson said although he would have liked to see the project start sooner, the economic downturn delayed plans across the board.
“Four years ago, we were in good shape to get things going, but then the economy soured,” he said, adding he is optimistic about officials’ pace. “Everything I’ve been told by the university is that they will be moving dirt in the spring, and so I believe that that will happen.”
Colella said he was satisfied with the progress given the magnitude of the university’s undertaking.
“I’d say that we’d hope it would go a little bit faster, but it’s moving steadily and I’m very optimistic that we’ll have a redeveloped East Campus in the near future,” he said.