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Developer's $100 million-plus campus plan could sink Maryland golf course

University of Maryland, College ParkGreenberg Gibbons

— A prominent developer has met with Maryland President Wallace D. Loh to gauge interest in a proposal costing more than $100million to add a large, mixed-use development on land now occupied by the school's golf course and to provide a direct link to the campus from Interstate 95.

At a meeting several months ago, Brian Gibbons — whose firm, Greenberg Gibbons of Owings Mills, developed Annapolis Towne Centre — presented Loh with a preliminary plan "to improve transportation connections to the campus and to repurpose some of the university's golf course," according to a July 8 letter from Loh to Gibbons obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

Gibbons said in an interview that the concept he described to Loh featured "an academic village with retail, office, hotel and residential" properties that would be owned by the university.

The school is interested in the idea, which has also piqued the attention of golfers and others worried they could lose the 150-acre course.

"The University of Maryland is committed to transforming College Park into a top college town by improving the surrounding communities, particularly at the main gateways to campus," the university said in an email reply to a Sun query. "The initial concept for development on the university golf course and an accompanying connector road has merit, but it is preliminary and will require further evaluation, open dialogue and discussion."

Loh invited Gibbons to submit a proposal that the president said would be disseminated to the university community for consideration.

"We would hold open meetings for public feedback, as we did to consider the Purple [light rail] Line," the letter said.

Gibbons, who earned undergraduate and law degrees from Maryland and played on the tennis team, said: "We think it could be great for the university and it could be great for College Park."

Gibbons said he is performing "due diligence" before making a decision on submitting a proposal.

While the plan is in the early stages, it is potentially serious enough that the university system's Board of Regents has been briefed, College Park-area lawmakers and civic associations are discussing it informally, and golf course supporters have begun to organize to save the course, which they call an important campus "green space" that opened in 1959.

"We oppose any development that would demolish the golf course," said Norm Starkey, chairman of Friends of the University of Maryland Golf Course, a support group. Because a final proposal has not been submitted, it is not certain that the course would be eliminated, but its backers are concerned. Maryland's men's and women's golf teams play on the course, which is open to the public.

"We need to be smart about development," said Eric Olson, a member of the Prince George's County Council whose district includes the golf course. "There are a lot of people who love the golf course, who love the green space."

A decision on the project likely would be made by Loh in concert with the regents. There is no publicly available cost estimate yet, and it's not clear what role the state might play. Gibbons said the development and transportation link together would top $100 million.

Loh's priorities include making College Park a more interesting college town — with more amenities — that would encourage faculty and staff to live there.

"We want to attract new and improved developments on Route 1 and near the campus," he said in his letter to Gibbons.

The golf course is off University Boulevard and Adelphi Road, not far from Byrd Stadium.

Improving road connections from the I-95 and Capital Beltway interchange to near the campus could address the university's goal of minimizing traffic on heavily used U.S. 1, which tends to bottle up, particularly during sporting events.

"The burden of traffic and congestion on U.S. Route One, the principal gateway to the University of Maryland College Park, is a critical problem that must be addressed as soon as possible," State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. wrote in a July 18 letter to James T. Smith, the state transportation secretary. "Traffic during class days, rush hour and during major athletic and academic has been intolerable, often requiring 20 to 30 minutes to simply travel from the Beltway to campus."

Gibbons is chief executive officer of Greenberg Gibbons, whose projects have included Annapolis Town Centre and redevelopment of Hunt Valley Mall (now Hunt Valley Town Centre).

He sent two children to Maryland. One, a son, is still there. "I love the university," Gibbons said.

jebarker@baltsun.com

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