Apartments, shops proposed for former Laurel Police Department

Developers of the mixed-use apartment complex being planned for the former Laurel Police Department, just off Main Street on C Street in the city's arts and entertainment district, expect to break ground on the project before the end of this year.

Mark Mullen, a managing director for San Francisco-based Klingbeil Capital Management, the company that is under contract to buy the former police station property from the city, said, "If all goes well, it will take 12 months or shorter to complete the project once we break ground."

Klingbeil officials are not new to Laurel. They renovated the Oaks complex on Main Street and the Oaks North on Post Office Avenue. They said the proposed C Street complex will be an environmentally friendly project, consisting of 136 studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments, with 2,500-square-feet of retail space, in seven buildings. Mullen said the buildings will be a mix of three and four stories, with one five-story building, and that some floors will have views of the Patuxent River.

"In our initial application, we called it C Street Flats," Mullen said, "but we're working on a name for the project that respects its location near the (Patuxent) river and the heritage of the area."

The project has received conceptual approval from city officials, and the final plans are being drawn up to be presented over the next few months to the Historic District and Planning commissions for their approval. The project's storm water management plans are also being designed, which will require approval fromPrince George's Countyofficials.

"The storm water management plans could take six months or better, according to our engineers," said Klingbeil president Jim Collard. "We feel the development will be completely outside of the flood plain and the storm water plans won't need any variances."

'Center' of arts and entertainment district

Since the old police station was put up for sale when the new Police Department was completed in 2010, local officials and residents have pushed for a project that would boost traffic for businesses along Main Street With the designation of the arts and entertainment district last year, which includes Main and C streets, business owners in that area have advocated for a development that would act as a catalyst for the growth of the newly created district. City officials say they will have that with the Klingbeil development.

"C Street Flats will be … the center of the city's arts and entertainment district, with specific provisions for artists' shops, galleries and sales areas and the like," said city economic director Karl Brendle. "This project represents a big step forward in the creation of the district."

And although Laurel Board of Trade Chairman Matthew Coates had supported the group that wanted the city's new library to be built on the police station site, he said he is also excited about the project and its potential benefit to the arts district.

"Although there won't be a library, this will be a win-win for us all because this project will bring traffic to Main Street and C Street," Coates said. "This is going to be exciting for Laurel and we (Laurel Board of Trade members) are excited about it, too."

Klingbeil officials said they want to build a project that meshes with the arts district and want to work with the city to achieve that goal.

"We like the city's idea of an arts and entertainment district there and are anxious to work with the city with the hope of the project helping that area," Callard said. "We've talked to arts and entertainment people, too, and are willing to work with them as we develop the project."

Seeking incentives for working artists

Members of the Laurel Arts District Committee said they have been kept in the loop on the project, but some have expressed concern about whether the development will be one artists can take advantage of in terms of living there or leasing gallery space to work and for exhibits. Deb Randall, owner of Venus Theatre on C Street, said she envisioned a project that would add artistic activity to the street, instead of just more residents. She questioned whether working artists will be able to afford the upscale apartments proposed for the complex.

"Karl (Brendle) has made sure we've been at the table with the developer, but I feel the city has put in place a project to benefit the developer and not for artists," Randall said. "How much of the arts district will be about art versus going to the highest bidder? We want an honest-to-God project that has incentives for artists."

When asked if some units will be set aside as lower-priced rentals for artists, Mullen said the leases will be subject to the market and affordable to working people.

"The goal is to energize Main Street and … as a developer, we're going to develop the project and see what the market brings," Mullen said.

Coates, who is a professional photographer and describes himself as an artist, is taking the position that many artists will not be able to afford to locate to the C Street development.

"We've asked the developer if maybe the (apartment) rents could somehow offset space for artist to be able to afford the retail space, but I don't know if that can happen," Coates said. "Being realistic, the developer is in business to make money and we know starving artists can't afford this. I'm an artist and I get that. I don't know if I could afford to move my business there."

To make the project area more conducive to becoming a hub of activity during the day and night, Randall and Coats are hoping the developer will follow through on an amphitheater near the river that has been suggested for the project. In addition to attracting more people to the district they think it will reconnect the city to its roots as a mill/river town.

Mullen said the plans for the project are still evolving and that they are working with city Parks and Recreation Department officials on what amenities should be included in the project.

"There has been some talk of an amphitheater but we're early in the process and there's no design for it yet. If we can do it, and it makes sense, we will," Mullen said.

Brendle was more direct when asked about the amphitheater as an amenity. In an e-mail message, he stated, "I know of no change in the plan for the natural amphitheater to be located on the property. Our recommendation will still continue to include that feature (amphitheater) in their final plan, as well as a sign/masthead for a Victorian fixture at Main and C streets, which denotes the (arts) district."

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