Pr. George's Takes a Bite of the Good Life
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
On "jazz night" inside the Gladys Knight & Ron Winans' Chicken & Waffles restaurant, diners nodded and swayed. The music mixed with the low mirth of bar conversation, and it was easy to forget where you were.
Not the restaurant. The county.
At half past 9, "American Idol" finalist Gedeon McKinney joined the band and channeled Al Green singing "Let's Stay Together." Cellphone cameras snapped away, and Jacquie Hayes-Byrd got almost giddy. The Commerce Department information officer had brought a friend just to show off. "I used to live here 10 years ago, and nothing was here," she said. Now, "I'm proud as punch to be here."
Here, as in Prince George's County.
For decades, the county has struggled to shed its blue-collar image as it changed from white and working class to majority-black and middle class. The image problem lingered, development lagged and county officials and citizens groups complained bitterly about the dearth of high-end-shopping and dining options -- places to sit down, have a drink, take a date.
Ten years ago, the opening of the chain restaurant Applebee's in Largo was a big event, given that it was in one of the mostly black communities that felt particularly underserved after the gradual decline in the 1990s of once-thriving Landover Mall. Then, five years ago, the county's first modern retail and dining district arrived with the Bowie Town Center.
Two years ago, the Boulevard at the Capital Centre shopping center -- where Gladys Knight's restaurant is located -- opened in Largo, and the stores, restaurants and bars started multiplying. Plans for more than a half-dozen retail projects, from north to south, are promising to transform the county and deliver a range of swank, funky or family destination spots. The new offerings are changing the way people live, as more residents are staying close to home to eat out and shop.
In May, the county signed a deal with the high-end Wegmans Food Markets to anchor the Woodmore Towne Centre in Landover, a billion-dollar project that will include homes and more than 750,000 square feet of shopping space and is expected to open in summer 2008.
Next summer, the $1.2 billion University Town Center in Hyattsville, a mixed-use development, will open with a brewery, sushi bar, white-tablecloth restaurant and 14-screen movie theater. And in 2008, the much-anticipated $2 billion National Harbor project, promising to be the largest hotel, resort and convention center on the Eastern seaboard, will open on the banks of the Potomac River in Oxon Hill with high-end homes, shops, restaurants and entertainment.
Even with the additions, the county will lag behind its more commercially developed neighbors. But officials say the county is catching up. The changes are welcome to many residents, who wonder: What took so long?
Obstacles to Progress
At the Boulevard at the Capital Centre, as a recent spring afternoon gave way to evening, hundreds of people -- couples, families, small groups of friends -- gathered on both sides of "Restaurant Row."
The outdoor mall, which opened in 2003, and features a 12-screen Loews Magic Johnson Theatres complex and a Starbucks, quickly became the happening new place, and lines of folks waited for a table or chatted outside the Cold Stone Creamery ice cream shop.