Developers propose multifamily housing in place of hotel
By Kim Seif
As the hospitality industry continues to struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic, one developer seeks to change the zoning of a site in College Park to make way for a multifamily development, instead of a hotel.
The site, located on the corner of Campus and Corporal Frank Scott drives, was slated for construction of a Marriott Residence Inn. The city council and Prince George’s Planning Board approved plans for the hotel in September 2020. The site’s developer, Republic Properties, no longer believes that it would be feasible to build a hotel in this location.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospitality industry has taken a severe hit as people have canceled vacations and stayed home. According to the American Hotel Lodging Association’s 2021 State of the Hotel Industry Report, occupancy fell to a record low of 24.5% in April 2020, and hotel room revenue dropped by 50% for the year.
As more people are fully vaccinated, the hospitality industry is showing signs of improvement. According to the report, 56% of Americans plan to travel for leisure this year, and hotels are planning to create more than 200,000 jobs. Despite these projections, the report projects that half of the hotel rooms in the country will likely remain empty this year. A full recovery to pre-pandemic levels is not expected until 2024.
“The financing community who would participate with us … has evaporated. You can’t get financing for a hotel today,” Stacy Hornstein, director of development for Republic Properties, said during the College Park City Council worksession on Aug. 4.
The county has jurisdiction over the site, including zoning and designation of the developer.
“The site still is owned by Prince George’s County, and the rights to develop it were given to Republic Properties on the basis that they would build a hotel,” College Park Director of Planning, Community and Economic Development Terry Schum said during the Aug. 4 worksession.
Mark Vogel, founder of the investment firm Mark Vogel Companies, which could partner with Republic Properties on this site’s development, sent a letter to Mayor Patrick Wojahn. The letter, which Schum presented to the city council, underscored that the council’s support is important for obtaining the county’s approval.
The proposed housing development would have smaller units than those in nearby apartment buildings, which are largely occupied by University of Maryland students. According to Vogel, the one-bedroom apartments in the new development would be marketed to both young professionals and the 55-and-older community.
Vogel also noted that the site is close to the College Park Metro and Purple Line stations, ensuring easy access to the campus.
Councilmember Denise Mitchell (District 5) expressed her support of the proposed housing development during the worksession.
“We have many young professionals, and we have many of our 55-plus members who do not want to leave College Park and would prefer to stay here but downsize,” she said.
The proposed multifamily development would retain the ground-floor retail and restaurant space from the original site plan. It would also include a parking garage and green space, according to Hornstein.
Councilmember Llatetra Esters (District 2) said she appreciated the need to appeal to multiple demographics. She asked if the proposed development would offer units at affordable housing rates.
Vogel said that the proposed development would not include affordable housing units but noted that rates would be reasonable.
“The idea of keeping the units smaller will be that the 55-and-overs and the young professionals can afford them,” he said, during the worksession.
During their Aug. 10 meeting, city councilmembers voted to send a letter to Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks showing their support for the change of use for the site and for Republic Properties to continue as site developer.
The letter stated that Republic Properties is best suited to continue the project, as the company has already invested time and money in the site to combat flooding. The site is located in a hazardous floodplain, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The letter also underscored that a multifamily development would “contribute to the building of a new neighborhood at this location and provide needed housing for workers in the Discovery District.”
If the change of use is approved and Republic Properties is retained, the developer would start working with an architect on preliminary plans and a detailed site plan for the county’s planning board to review.