Prince George’s County officials are desperately trying to grow the commercial tax base in the county. However, they’re fearful there are perceived hurdles to making this happen.

“In the minds of some, the county may be perceived as a place where it’s difficult to do business,” said Kwasi Holman, president and CEO of the Prince George’s Economic Development Cooperation. “When you compare the actual time it takes to move projects forward, that is not an accurate perception.”

This is an especially sour subject with Holman and many other officials given the hoops the county has had to jump in their bids for two separate General Service Administration contracts (GSA) with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The county was looking to use the contracts to lease office space to spur the kind of retail development seen around metro stations in Montgomery County and Arlington County, Va. However, GSA changed its guidelines regarding ceiling heights and zoning restrictions and some within the county believe it was done deliberately. “We’ve been working on GSA-related issues for over five years and those kinds of last minute alterations make some in our development community skeptical of the actual intentions of GSA,” Holman went on to say.

Holman isn’t the only person angered by GSA. At a recent hearing, U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Dist 4, peppered GSA officials with questions over the administration’s leasing disparities. “The fact that GSA continues to use this criteria ensures that Prince George’s County will never be able to compete for these leases,” she said during the hearing. “The prospectus should be clear from one solicitation to the next solicitation without changes being made at the last minute that seem to be targeted to a particular developer or a development. You are effectively screening out an entire county and that means that you’re screening out competition.”

GSA says the selection process was fair and it has been working with the county for years. “We have a substantial presence already in Prince George’s County,” said Michael McGill, spokesman for GSA. “The general tendency in these arguments is to focus on leasing space, but we have owned inventory in Prince George’s County that’s quite extensive.”

GSA owns the Suitland Federal Center which incorporates the U.S. Census Bureau and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with the FDA campus in College Park. Prince George’s is also fourth in the region in GSA leasing behind Washington, D.C., Arlington County, Va., and Montgomery County.

Despite what GSA says, officials see this as another slight as they attempt to increase the commercial tax base in the county. Prince George’s County Councilwoman Andrea Harrison, D-Dist. 5, says it is vital to helping the county move forward in other areas as well. “It’s imperative that we try to get some of that commercial development so that we can have the resources to do some other things,” Harrison said. “We have to try do what we can to increase our tax base to have a better quality of life and additional resources.”

Work is still ongoing to push for more commercial development in the county. Holman says the county is willing to sit at the table with anyone to talk about the benefits of doing business in Prince George’s County.

“We’re reaching out to officials at GSA as well as various other agencies to dispel myths about the county,” he said. “We want to reinforce the fact that the county is open for business and is ready to overcome any real or perceived obstacles that are out there.”

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO