Camp Springs development district shows new approach to tax incentives -- Gazette.Net


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To spark development around the Branch Avenue Metro station, Prince George’s County officials want to set up tax breaks for construction on a property next to the station, which they say is the start of a larger effort.

A resolution, introduced by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), which was passed unanimously by the County Council Nov. 20, sets up the Town Center at Camp Springs Development District at a site along Auth Way in Camp Springs.

The designation sets up tax incentives to help pay for construction at the site, which sits vacant, save for one apartment complex with empty ground-floor retail. Tom Himler, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for budget, finance and administration, said the proposal is the first step to signal that the county is “open for business” and willing to negotiate with developers.

Himler said until recently, tax incentives traditionally have been used at the end of the development process to help developers secure the last bit of financing.

By setting up the district now, Himler said the county hopes to start using tax incentives to attract investors at the beginning of the process. Himler said the specifics of the tax breaks will be worked out once the site gets closer to having a prospective development.

“The district is a tool we want to use to try to help the developers attract investment on the front end so we can get some movement on a proposal for the site,” Himler said. “...This will enable the developer to market the site, knowing there’s a potential incentive to build there.“

Dana Stebbins, a development consultant for the Washington, D.C.-based Town Center at Camp Springs LLC, said the district designation is “tremendous.”

The development hopes to construct additional retail space and residential, along with a commercial or federal office building on the site, Stebbing said. The now-empty retail would be able to thrive with offices providing a customer base, Stebbins said.

“[In previous years,] we marketed to the federal government, but were unsuccessful, in part because we were unable to say we had the local government’s support, which is a large part of what they look for,” Stebbins said. “[The tax break district] is huge in going back to the federal market, as well as the commercial market.”

M.H. Jim Estepp, president of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable, a group of county business leaders, said the new effort will provide a “new value to the community and its businesses.”

“It’s a proactive effort to attract high-end economic development projects,” Estepp said. “...Instead of letting the property lay dormant, this could give it the shot in the arm it needs to get development up and running.”

Himler said that while the county would like to see a state or federal government tenant at county Metro stations, officials and developers will examine other corporate office uses as well.

County Councilman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro said the proposal is a positive step toward getting more transit-oriented development.

“Just the creation of the district sends a message to businesses that we’re ready and we’re serious,” Franklin said. “And we’re willing to use incentives to give a boost to one of our prime development areas.”

ewagner@gazette.net