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Now Showing in Largo: Public Pride

Former NBA Great, County Leaders Team Up to Celebrate New Retail Climate

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 16, 2004; Page B01

The two Johnsons -- Magic and Jack B. -- were smiling as they sat together on a makeshift stage in the Largo shopping center yesterday, and they had good reason.

Earvin "Magic" Johnson, the former National Basketball Association star turned businessman, was opening a movie theater in another community where such amenities have long been scarce.


The Bowie State University Band plays at a ceremony featuring Magic Johnson, who has brought new retail businesses to predominantly black areas. (Photos James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

For Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), the new 12-screen complex at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre is more validation for a majority-black community that, despite its affluence, has been snubbed for decades by quality retailers and restaurateurs.

The people of Prince George's "deserve the very best, and they deserve something that represents them. Today we have that," he said.

The quest for a new movie theater began more than six years ago, during the tenure of Jack Johnson's predecessor, Wayne K. Curry.

Magic Johnson, also joined on stage by Wizard's owner Abe Pollin, Baltimore developer David Cordish and Curry, told the nearly 200 people gathered that "Wayne [Curry] chased me down in Los Angeles and said 'Brother, you gotta come to Prince George's.' "

Since then, Johnson has returned to Prince George's to cut ribbons at three Starbucks coffee shops and a mortgage lending company. And now, a theater with plush seats and a lobby that pays tribute to famous African Americans.

"It's just a remarkable thing for us in Prince George's County," Carolyn Winbush, a resident of Mitchellville, said over the blaring of horns and beating of drums of a marching band before the celebration program. "This brings capital into our area, quality into our area, something we can be proud of. . . . For Magic Johnson to invest in the African American community is commendable. And he's made this a proud day in Prince George's County."

Council Vice Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), a former civic activist who advocated for the shopping center before getting elected to office, said it is the "economic engine" that the county hopes to replicate.

Magic Johnson said he hopes the theater will spur the type of development that has taken root in Harlem, since he opened a theater there four years ago.

"After my theater came, the Disney Store, Old Navy and on and on" came to the area, Johnson said. "Then I put the Starbucks there, and now [Bill] Clinton, a former president, is there. Now you can't get a brownstone in Harlem for under $1 million? Harlem is back. I helped kick that off."

"This is bigger than just people coming in here watching a movie," Johnson added.

Curry said it was no suprise that Johnson's theater in Largo opened No. 1 in the country last weekend. "We've once again proven, when you dream big, you achieve big," Curry said.

Oba Harris, 32, who lives just a couple of miles away from the theater and the town center-style shopping center, which opened earlier this year, said the arrival of the retail and entertainment venue was long overdue.

Harris, who grew up in Capitol Heights, recalled having to travel almost 20 miles to see a movie.

"Finally, it's about time," said Harris, who brought his children, Oba Jr. and Jordan, to the celebration.

Pollin, a partner in the development of the outdoor shopping mall on the site of the old Capital Center arena, said Johnson's theater is the fulfillment of a commitment Pollin made when he pulled up stakes and moved the Washington Wizards to MCI Center.

"I promised the citizens when I moved downtown that I wouldn't leave a white elephant," Pollin said. The former stadium site is now a 510,000-square-foot shopping center that is home to DSW Shoe Warehouse, Ann Taylor Loft and Red Star Tavern.


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