Ten visions for a slice of Seat Pleasant, Maryland, were presented this past week by students from Maryland’s Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) Program in a bid to inspire its future. Community greenspaces, wide thoroughfares and bustling hubs for live-work-play were just a few components—shared with members of the Seat Pleasant City Council, residents and stakeholders—that resulted from a semester-long capstone project that focused on two challenging sites within this Washington, D.C.-bordering community in Prince George’s County, that could hold the key to kickstarting development, walkability and community resilience.
The MRED Capstone—a semester long, soup-to-nuts development project that includes a thorough market analysis, financials, feasibility study and construction schedule—is a time-honored fixture in the Master of Real Estate Development Program, capping off the graduate school experience and providing opportunity for students to put their new skills as developers to work. This year, the program teamed up with UMD’s Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability Program (PALS) to help envision a starting point for revitalization within the city of Seat Pleasant, on the heels of the city’s 2018 Master Plan. Seat Pleasant is a tight-knit community that has weathered decades of discriminatory practices, like red lining, leading to a number of social and economic challenges including poorer health outcomes and more people living below the poverty level. The sites—a triangular strip of property currently home to a gas station and an adjacent strip mall—sit alongside two major gateway thoroughfares in and out of The District.
“Both sites are pretty challenging sites, so this is definitely testing redevelopment skills that they have developed in the program,” said Program Director Maria Day-Marshall. “It’s an economic starter for the area. If you look at the local analysis, sometimes your immediate market study won’t support what you’re proposing, because the neighborhood needs so much uplift. So, along with feasibility, the students were looking outside the area to see what unique things they can bring into the community.”
A February charette with 40 city residents and stakeholders and capstone mentors Jerry Dawson, principal, Greenwood Commercial Real Estate Group and Timur Ryspekov, senior project manager, Telesis Corporation, helped outline opportunities and glean community input. A strong desire for more retail, including a much-needed grocery store, plus a need for more affordable housing and better walkability helped students tailor their proposals, with market analysis and feasibility studies determining what would garner a win-win for both residents and potential developers.
“The students look at every aspect to determine what proposal would be appropriate,” says Clinical Professor Tanya Bansal, who is assistant director of UMD’s Real Estate Development Program. “They will need to attract developers, arm them with what they need to develop and show the owners of community establishments in that area what is possible.”
Proposals included a variety of mixed-use, fresh development ideas that would infuse the area with healthier food options and set the stage for critical social infrastructure. In one development by Jessica Ramirez, the gas station, located on the tip of the triangular parcel, is replaced by a beautiful fountain and green space for residents; Yuan Hu’s development, a retail/services destination for the community, includes an incubator space, healthcare center, a bowling alley and movie theatre. An arena-style plaza in Catherine Roach’s development provides a large, multi-use space for outdoor events, farmers market and room for a mobile clinic. A free community shuttle, proposed by Weishi Zhang, would greatly enhance accessibility. To alleviate the need to leave Seat Pleasant for groceries, which is currently a challenge for most residents, most of the developments included a major grocery store chain.
“It was great to see these presentations turn out the way they did,” said Ryspekov. “These are challenging sites but they are the sites we’re seeing out in the real world, and that’s why the Real Estate Development program is so good at what they do. Projects like these show us what the students learned, not just through the semester, but throughout the program.”
Real-world sites are not new to the capstone program, which has created development scenarios for jurisdictions across the state. In the past, students from the MRED program have returned to areas to help with implementation.
Ebony Stocks, an MRED alum and executive vice president for Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation, sees programs like the capstone as a way for students to share unique visions with a community and help them take community needs to the next level.
“The presentations were very creative and forward thinking and really fit into the fabric of the community,” she said. For a city like Seat Pleasant, this is a stepping stone for where it could be and an opportunity to take it to the next step.”
The full reports, which will be delivered to the city later this month, not only include full financials and schedules, they also address a myriad of issues including zoning and entitlements, how the project would be constructed, environmental issues and the social and economic impact.
“It’s evident how hard these students worked on this project,” said Kelly Porter, Jr., Seat Pleasant Council President. “I can see the vision that they have for the city and I think it’s going to be instrumental in helping us put some of those things into place. It’s tremendous.”