By SHOURJYA MOOKERJEE — Armory Apartments, the mixed-use retail and residential complex planned for the Arts District along Baltimore Avenue, has updated its design and is adjusting to increased development costs.
D.C.-based real estate and development company Urban Investment Partners (UIP) presented its initial plans for the development to the council last July. While the overall feedback was generally positive, residents and committee members expressed some qualms. Because of its Arts District location, the proposal also had to go through an additional review process by the Prince George’s County Historic Preservation Commission.
“We’ve presented the project to numerous constituents, including city council and Hyattsville’s planning committee,” said Brook Katzen, UIP vice president of development. “All of these groups have had important feedback that we’ve taken into account.”
In response, Katzen maintained that UIP has made a number of changes to its site plan and design based on the feedback, although the bulk of the original design — including 285 apartment units, 31,660 square feet of retail space, 681 parking spaces and two public plazas — remains in place.
Last summer, for example, UIP learned that the corrugated metal that was borrowed from Franklin’s Restaurant, Brewery and General Store and incorporated into the design was not popular among residents, who felt that the material was dated.
“We removed the corrugated metal; that was a very clear message,” Katzen said. “Some members of the planning committee encouraged us to make the building more eclectic, because the context is eclectic.”
Other changes involve using fibrous cement in part of the facade and incorporating a turret-looking roof design to echo the stone and turrets of Crossover Church, which will border the new building on one side.
According to January 2019 UIP presentation documents, the company will invest in the installation of underground utility lines and the removal of deteriorating above-ground lines, as well.
“I thought we had a well-conceived project to begin with, but it’s getting better and better as we keep learning about what is important to people in the community,” Katzen said. “We’re at a point now where the project is completely designed, and it’s been fully approved.”
Armory Apartments will serve as a connection between the two ends of Hyattsville, taking the place of numerous vacant lots and deteriorating buildings and creating a safer pedestrian environment for its residents, said Katzen.
With a project of this size, complications are to be expected. UIP recently received approval with conditions for a $3 million tax credit from the city, which Katzen sought to offset escalating costs.
“Since we embarked on this project two years ago, construction costs have continued to increase substantially and, in the meantime, rents have not continued to grow,” he said. “We’re determined to move it forward, but it is challenging from a financial feasibility standpoint.”
Jim Chandler, director of Community and Economic Development, had his own thoughts on the matter of increased construction costs.
“It is my opinion that there are a combination of factors contributing to this specific issue, including tariffs on steel [and] a strained supply of both construction materials and labor costs,” Chandler said. “But there is also an influx of new multi-family residential dwelling units within the market, both within the Route 1 Corridor and at several Metro stations within the market area.”
Despite the ambitious nature of the project, Chandler touted its mission. Citing it as a continuation of the Arts District Hyattsville project started by EYA nearly a decade ago, he expanded upon the benefits it would bring to the community.
“Anytime you are looking at a project of this scale, it is disruptive, but we recognize the project will yield tremendous economic and civic benefits,” said Chandler. “From a revitalization perspective, it is activating a section of the corridor that has deteriorated for nearly 20 years and in recent years has been vacant, diminishing the [area’s] vibrancy, aesthetics and economic momentum.”
Katzen said UIP is in the process of lining up all the financing that is required to move forward. The company in talking with the city and Prince George’s County about their potential financial support of the project, but no agreements have been finalized.
According to Katzen, no retailers have been lined up for the development yet, but he noted that UIP has designated a team from Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis to be responsible for retail leasing.
Chandler said that demolition can be expected to start by this fall, and estimated that it would take 24 to 28 months for the building to be ready for tenants. The city is anticipating new residents and businesses during the first quarter of 2022.