The extension of the Blue Line into Prince George’s was a welcome link to the rest of the region — and a harbinger, locals hoped, of a burst of economic development.
Three decades later, Capitol Heights is still waiting for that boom.
The aging single-family homes and auto-repair shops just steps from the station are signs of how little Metro has brought to the town. Empty parcels with brown grass and tall weeds face the southern edge of the Metro station at Davey Street. Old Central Avenue, a vibrant main street during the 1960s, is now a struggling business district.
Even the county, which has pushed for development around its 15 Metro stations, has consigned Capitol Heights to the back burner, focusing the government’s efforts on New Carrollton and a handful of other transit sites that have proved more attractive to private-sector partners.
So just as it did more than 30 years ago, Capitol Heights is looking toward the District.
This time, though, it’s not a rail link to downtown Washington that is raising hopes. Rather, it’s a site just across the border where Wal-Mart plans to build a store that will be part of a 10-acre development with office, retail and residential space.
“If and when the Wal-Mart is developed, it will have a huge impact on the region,” said Jonathan Taylor, an economic development consultant for Capitol Heights. “We need to begin to look at opportunities that can be built around the Wal-Mart.”
For years, the Central Avenue corridor and its string of Metro stations have been seen as a well of untapped opportunities for Prince George’s. The county, though well known for its large black middle class, still lags behind Montgomery and Fairfax counties, and County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has made economic development a priority, winning approval of a $50 million fund to spur investment.
The Central Avenue corridor is a piece of that effort, and the county’s planning department has been working on a blueprint for housing, retail and commercial spaces around the Blue Line stations at Largo Town Center, Morgan Boulevard, Addison Road and Capitol Heights.
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For years, county and local officials have talked about such plans for mixed-use development in Capitol Heights. None has materialized. The area’s lower income levels and its reputation as a hub for crime have made it harder to attract developers.
The town of about 4,300 people has a median household income of $58,393, below the county’s $71,260. About 10.7 percent of the Capitol Heights population live below the poverty level, compared with 7.9 percent countywide.
Capitol Heights and the surrounding area have one of the highest foreclosure rates in Prince George’s, which has more foreclosures than any other county in Maryland.