Work begins on Safeway project meant to revitalize Hyattsville’s University Town Center

Prince George’s County officials joined ECHO Realty executives Wednesday morning at a groundbreaking ceremony for a retail center anchored by a Safeway store on East-West Highway, at the front door of the University Town Center.

The Pittsburgh-based real estate company is kicking off construction of a $25 million development that includes a 55,105-square-foot Safeway and other retail and office space at East-West Highway and America Boulevard. The grocery store will serve as an anchor for the development and will draw more people to the center, county officials said.

Two other leases have been secured at the 82,000-square-foot project, said Howard Biel, senior vice president with ECHO. Unleashed by Petco and Phenix Salon Suites have signed leases for roughly 4,500 square feet each. Another lease is expected to be announced this month, which will make the development nearly fully leased, Biel said.

The project is part of an effort to encourage more development around the county’s Metro stations. The new development will be a significant boost to University Town Center, which has struggled with vacancies and foreclosures during the recession.

“It is the type of retail that will help this area grow and enhance the quality of life in this very walkable community,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said in a statement.

Prince George’s and Hyattsville approved a $3.5 million subsidy package last year for the project, including a $1.1 million tax deal approved by the County Council in November and $2 million from the county’s $50 million economic development fund. Hyattsville has committed $400,000 in tax credits, officials said.

David S. Iannucci, a top economic development aide to Baker, said the incentives will help strengthen and rebuild University Town Center, an entertainment, office and housing community within walking distance of the Prince George’s Plaza Metro station. The $1.2 billion development is considered the county’s only mixed-use, transit-oriented development.

“This is our opportunity, and our challenge, to strengthen and rejuvenate that project,” Iannucci said. “We are optimistic that the Safeway will bring new life to the area.”

Biel said the Safeway will open in fall 2015.

“We have our store deals in place and we are ready to go,” Biel said.

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Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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