Alfred H. Smith Jr. is building his field of dreams in Branchville, Md. No, he's not building a baseball diamond like in the 1989 film, Field of Dreams. Smith has taken on a greater challenge. He is transforming his family's nearly 90-year-old former construction material operation into a planned community in Prince George's County, about halfway between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.
Like the movie's main character, Smith isn't the type of person who readily gives up on fulfilling his dream. The son of a Washington-area material supplier who founded the business that bears his name, Smith had a successful career in the tough concrete and aggregate business in his own right.
Few of our generation will ever match his achievements. Now, when many of his contemporaries are retiring, Smith is persevering and taking on a challenge of heroic proportions.
Unlike an Iowa farmer, Smith isn't driven by a spirit urging him to build a site on which the wrongs of the past can be rectified. His spirit is leading him to create a legacy that honors his family's commitment to the area. “I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to be proud of our family's contribution to this area's development,” he says.
Smith and his business associate Dan Colton, president of GB Development, have embarked on a venture that many financial advisers would have shunned. Despite some initial resistance from local community leaders, the duo seems to be on the road to success.
Following a lengthy period of permit filings, land development began about three years ago. New home construction activity by Pulte Homes is scheduled to begin in the winter of 2007, with the first families moving in next spring. Before long, the project's northern section will be showcasing new retail, office, hotel, and multifamily homes.
Smith's experience in transforming his land from plant to homestead is one fellow producers may soon share. Producers are discovering their land may be more valuable for its location and potential development than potential concrete sales. This trend could be especially true for older, established operations that were built on what had been the fringe of main urban areas.
Their plan is simple. Offer homebuyers in a land-tight Washington, D.C. residential market an economical and accessible site, and the people will come.
“If you believe the impossible, the incredible can come true.”
Smith's commitment to reclaiming his operation's site shouldn't be a surprise to those who know him. When he was involved in the former National Stone Association, he championed the About Face award program. The environmental award program encourages aggregate producers to upgrade their plants in an effort to satisfy opposition from some neighbors.
Within his business, Smith already had a successful redevelopment project before Greenbelt Station. He had successfully transformed an old production site in southern Baltimore from an eyesore into a mini-storage area and a small lakefront development.
The construction of the Greenbelt Metro Station platform and surface parking lot, which was opened in 1993, turned out to be wake-up call for Smith. With reserves nearing depletion and the prospect of additional quality reserves gone, Smith began to wind down operations. He began to set in motion a plan to combine the 160 acres adjacent to the Metro Station with the 120 acres at the former plant site.
Smith's own family was skeptical. “My family thought I was crazy to go ahead with the project,” he recalls. Smith bought out his brother's share of the business and has been on his own ever since.
But Smith was on to something, as the area is under pressure for expansion. After all, it's located in a rapidly growing area of the nation. Many of the area's main commuter paths—the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the Capital Beltway, and Kenilworth Avenue—intersect here.
Smith realized from the outset that his project's success wasn't going to happen quickly. In fact, from true start to finish, the project will take about 20 years. But when it's completed, it will have a significant impact on the community. Smith's team estimates that his project will generate $2.75 billion of direct revenues to Prince George's County and to the City of Greenbelt through 2034. He will have created more than 9000 temporary construction jobs and more than 7000 permanent jobs.