For those who resided in Prince George’s County more than 20 years ago, Suitland’s reputation was a crime-ridden neighborhood with some aging apartment complexes where fights, shootings and other incidents often occurred.
Today, a $400 million residential and commercial project has come to fruition in what officials said took 20 years to complete.
“I’ve seen this area when it was really awful,” said Paula Anderson, who moved to Suitland in 1989. “To actually see this [project] come about is really encouraging.”
Anderson joined dozens of residents, county and state officials who celebrated the project at a groundbreaking Thursday, Nov. 16.
The Towne Square at Suitland Federal Center will incorporate nearly 1,000 residential units with construction of 219 townhouses as the first phase next year.
A six-story senior apartment complex for those 62 and older will include a cyber café, yoga garden, a 24-hour fitness center and a room for a visiting physician and nurses. The project, managed by L.A. Bolden Co. of Northwest and Mission First Housing Group of Baltimore, plan to open the building in two years.
The 1 million-square-foot development will also encompass several businesses and a 50,000-square-foot performing arts center, which could run various programs in conjunction with Suitland High School less than a mile away.
In addition, the project plans to create 1,200 construction jobs for a project managed by the county’s Redevelopment Authority.
During about an hour of remarks from eight people, one particular name surfaced: the late Wayne K. Curry, former county executive who first pushed for investment into Suitland.
“Wayne saw long before other people did that if you could revitalize this community … this is the culmination of what it’s going to be,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III. “Housing prices will rise up. This is just the beginning of it.”
Baker admitted it’s risky with the county acting as a developer responsible to construct sidewalks, trees and utilities onto the site.
“What we care about as a government is the quality of life in the community and we can take a bigger risk,” said Baker, whose children graduated from Suitland High School. “As soon as we did that and see other projects around the county come, then the interests from the outside came in. It is risky because you are putting county tax dollars on the line [and] taking the brunt of it if it doesn’t go through.”
The project also has some personal connection for County Councilwoman Karen Toles (D-District 7) of Suitland.
Toles, who created the name of the site, had a message for people with a negative perceptive of Suitland.
“You don’t get to decide how our community is going to be perceived. We get to do that,” she said. “The Towne Square at Suitland Federal Center is saying, ‘Our doors are open to the community.'”
While some residents and officials praised the project, several businesses in Suitland must relocate.
At least seven businesses who leased units along Suitland Road got sold to the county by former property owner, Kevin Sills, president of Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Investments of Manassas, Virginia. He did not return a phone call or email for comment.
The merchants received notices from the Redevelopment Authority last month to inform them they had 30 days to move, according to their attorney Dena Mas’sié. However, the merchants negotiated to remain in Suitland rent-free until Jan. 5 to find other locations to operate in the county.
Mas’sié said in an email the same day as the groundbreaking her clients became deceived by Sills for not notifying them sooner about a potential sale of the property.
“Many of the business were making financial improvements to their leased property, buying new equipment and making financial decisions based on the expectation of a stream of revenue from their businesses,” she said.
As for the overall project, Mas’sié said the merchants appreciate new development into Suitland. Her clients include A Touch of Heaven Printing, Claros Braiding and Barber and Skulling Ink Tattoo. One of the other businesses, The Perfume Chick Galleria, will relocate on Branch Avenue in Temple Hills, according to a flier.
“Many of the businesses having to relocate are legitimate contributors to the community,” she said. “It would have been perfect if their business futures could have been incorporated in the new development plans for Suitland.”