At a meeting Tuesday night, the College Park City Council voted 6-2 to purchase two Route 1 properties in its quest to redevelop City Hall.
The properties — 7409 and 7411 Baltimore Avenue, where Subway and Shanghai Cafe are located — were sold to the city for a total of $1.6 million so it can renovate the block at the intersection of Knox Road and Route 1.
“This is an investment in our downtown area,” College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn said. “This is a project that will bring more workers to our downtown, that will significantly change the appearance and feel of our downtown.”
City manager Scott Somers said there are mixed opinions in the community about the redevelopment. At a previous public hearing, residents said the city should not exercise eminent domain and take over the properties.
The city is committed to helping the businesses relocate when their leases expire in September 2019, Wojahn said, adding that the properties’ owner did not ask the city to help them find new locations as part of the sale.
The Terrapin Development Company owns the properties where the Smoothie King and Hair Cuttery are, and the company is in talks with those two businesses — which will also be affected — to help them relocate, said University of Maryland Chief Strategy Officer Ken Ulman.
“It’s not really anything that we particularly have to do,” Wojahn said, “but since we want to support local businesses, we are willing to work with them on reasonable relocation expenses.”
The city has not reached out to the business owners regarding relocation, Somers said. Wojahn said he doubts the businesses will struggle to find new spaces in the city.
Wojahn said more city staff is needed as its population continues to grow, but more staff haven’t been hired due to too little space in City Hall. A larger building will also help with a lack of public meeting space, he said.
In addition to a new City Hall, the block’s redevelopment will include an office building for this university, retail space and a public plaza, Ulman said. No decisions have been made as to the office building’s function, he said.
“The university thinks it’s important to have more people go to work every day in the core of town because that supports the retail and supports the vibrancy of downtown College Park,” Ulman said.
The architectural design of the City Hall redevelopment has not been finalized, Ulman said. He said additional planning will likely take one-and-a-half to two years, with construction beginning late 2019 or early 2020.
The city has been looking to improve its City Hall for more than 20 years, Somers said. In 2014, the city council selected the current Knox Road location as the redevelopment site.
For more than a year, the city tried to reach an agreement with the property owner for sale, Somers said. Wojahn said the owner was not reluctant to sell, but was unresponsive for a long time.
The city authorized use of eminent domain to acquire the properties in November, Wojahn said. In the past month, the property owner and the city struck a deal for its sale.
“At that point, they agreed to sit down and talk with us,” Wojahn said. “They realized we were serious.”
District 1 Councilman Fazlul Kabir and District 4 Councilwoman Denise Mitchell were the only members of the city council to vote against the approval of the sale.
Kabir said the original estimated cost for the redevelopment was $7.9 million, but it is now estimated at $12.5 million. Kabir said he likely would not have voted for the redevelopment to occur at the current location if he knew in 2014 the cost would be almost $5 million more than originally anticipated.
Wojahn said he still would have voted for the project, even if the cost was originally said to be $12.5 million.
“This is a huge step,” Wojahn said, “and one that will really keep us moving forward.”