Somerset Construction Co. knew Hanover would be a strategic location someday when it began buying up land in the Anne Arundel community 44 years ago.
Someday has come.
Construction is expected to begin this summer on the company's 270 acres - now adjacent to the Arundel Mills mega-mall - and when the development is done, it will include nearly 1,000 homes and apartments, two hotels, as much as 1.8 million square feet of Class A office space, 430,000 square feet of neighborhood retail and several hundred thousand square feet of other commercial space.
The offices will increase the county's Class A space by a third and have space for 8,000 workers. Corporate Office Properties Trust, which is developing that part of the project, said yesterday that it planned to construct 13 buildings on 63 acres.
"It's basically a half-mile from the mall," said Randall M. Griffin, president and chief executive of the Columbia-based office developer. "You like to have the amenities close by but you don't want to be at the front entrance and overwhelmed by the traffic, so this is the ideal scenario. You're right at the back door."
The residential side of the project includes about 500 apartments, which Bozzuto Homes will begin building this summer, and about 440 high-end townhouses and single-family homes that Toll Brothers will start on next year.
Bethesda-based Somerset bought its first piece of Hanover property in 1961, when it seemed that the construction of Route 100 was imminent. Although the road was delayed until the 1990s, the company kept adding to its holdings. A chunk of it was sold to the Mills Corp. for its expansive mall, which opened 4 1/2 years ago.
Now the area is a boomtown. Within a few miles of the mall, an industrial park is under construction and another industrial park is expanding. There's a site where developers are building Class A office space, a hotel and a day-care center; and 32 acres were recently purchased by a company planning to build a mixed-use project. Houses are popping up all over.
Somerset's development, called Arundel Preserve, will be a particularly large satellite - two-thirds the size of the sprawling mall itself, which sits on 400 acres.
"A lot of quality development ... clusters around wherever Mills locates a mall," said Bill Badger, president and chief executive of Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., the county's economic development arm. With the mall came a new interchange at Route 295, "so this created the window for this kind of project to occur."
Arundel Preserve is tucked between the mall and Route 295, stretching south to Route 175. That puts it squarely between two of the county's major employers - Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the National Security Agency - in an area that County Executive Janet S. Owens has dubbed "the gold coast."
"It's rare in an urban and suburban location that you get that amount of land," said Mike Caruthers, president of Somerset, which will begin developing the site's retail as soon as the end of the year.
"Obviously it shouldn't be all residential," he said, "sitting in between the two biggest economic engines if not in the state, certainly in Anne Arundel County."
Corporate Office Properties Trust, which is known for filling its buildings with defense and homeland security contractors, said the Arundel Preserve offices could attract more of that type of user or companies looking to locate headquarters near the airport. Construction will begin either this fall or next spring, Griffin said.
He expects it to take about a decade - and $325 million - to complete. Once done, the offices will hold about 8,000 jobs.
"This is just a logical extension of our dominant position along the 295 corridor," said Griffin, whose company owns the National Business Park to the south and 35 buildings around BWI to the north.
About 6 percent of the county's Class A office space is vacant, down from more than 18 percent three years ago, according to CoStar Group Inc.
Badger said the county is eager for more Class A space, which it associates with high-paying jobs. He wants reasons for the roughly 100,000 residents who commute out of Anne Arundel to work in the county instead.