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Upscale retail on horizon in Prince George's
Mixed-use development with high-end shopping scheduled to open next fall

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lucenia Dunn loves her tony neighborhood in Prince George's, the wealthiest majority-black county in the nation, despite having to trek around the Washington region to buy some of the things she needs and wants.

When Dunn and her retail-starved friends want a St. John knit, they head to Nordstrom in Annapolis or Arlington County. When they want a wide selection of gourmet groceries, they head to Whole Foods on P Street in Northwest Washington.

They won't have to make some of those trips when the first phase of Woodmore Towne Centre at Glenarden, a 245-acre mixed-use development, is completed -- which is scheduled to happen next fall.

Construction began in September on the project, which will eventually comprise 1,100 residential units, 800,000 square feet of retail, 1 million square feet of office space, two hotels and a conference center. One of the anchors will be Wegmans, the county's first gourmet grocer. Best Buy and Costco have also signed on, and chef Timothy Dean will open a fine-dining restaurant.

The development will create a mini-city near FedEx Field in Landover at Interstate 495 and Landover Road, transforming the landscape of central Prince George's.

County officials hope that Woodmore Towne Centre, a joint project of Petrie Ross Ventures, Greenberg Gibbons Commercial and Hovnanian Land Investment Group -- and the upscale Wegmans -- will encourage other premium retailers to consider locating in Prince George's, attract more young professionals, and strengthen the county's ability to lure federal offices and other businesses.

Last year's opening of National Harbor, a waterfront resort on the Potomac River, and redevelopment in areas such as Hyattsville, are expanding shopping and restaurant options for Prince George's residents. But Dunn, who lives in Mitchellville, just a few miles from Woodmore Towne Centre, sees the development's arrival as a significant moment for the county, which has struggled to attract premium retailers and fine dining.

"I think this will signal that we're ready for prime time. We're ready for the Nordstrom, the Saks," she said. "The tragedy of Prince George's County has been the lack of recognition of its economic prowess. The fact that the high-end stores treat us as second-class citizens is disheartening."

Getting past the past

David J. Byrd, the county's deputy chief administrative officer for economic development, said several factors appear to have contributed to the scarcity of options: political will, perception and race. Byrd said past elected officials did not appear to have clear plans to lure the businesses the county wanted. In addition, he said, Prince George's is perceived as being rural, which is unattractive to potential retailers.

"We think of it as an urban county, with rural roots," he said.

Its standing as a majority-African American county also was a factor in some retailers' decision to shun the county for decades, he added. "I would be ignoring a reality if I didn't say race played a part in the past," Byrd said.

Kwasi G. Holman, president and chief executive of the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp., said he can remember traveling to the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas about five years ago and noticing that retailers had a vague understanding of the market in Prince George's and the income levels of its residents. It was hindering the county's ability to lure the type of development it wanted, he said.

Putting out the word

The county commissioned a study, released in October 2004, finding that Prince George's had an average household income of $68,488 in 2004 and was projected to have an average household income of $76,561 in 2009.

According to the report, Prince George's had the second-largest number of households in Maryland with incomes above $75,000 and the second-largest number of residents with college and graduate degrees. Half of the survey respondents said they shopped at department stores outside the county. The most popular stores were Nordstrom (17.5 percent), Macy's (14.3 percent) and Lord & Taylor (10.5 percent).

"We have a high income level for retail, but that has been leaking into other jurisdictions," Holman said.

That helped the county get Wegmans' attention. The grocer opens fewer than three stores a year, and the Wegmans at Woodmore, which will employ 600 workers, will be the company's second in Maryland.

"We're selective about the sites we choose," said Jo Natale, a spokeswoman for Wegmans. "This is a great regional location. . . . There's good access [off the Beltway], and we felt the market was underserved."

Byrd said once Wegmans agreed to come to Prince George's, several other top retailers expressed interest in the Woodmore development and in Konterra, a 2,200-acre project proposed for the northern part of the county that would include a multibillion-dollar town center, with offices, condominium units, upscale shops, restaurants and outdoor plazas.

Not everyone, however, thinks the center is the county's next economic development savior.

Former Glenarden mayor John Anderson said that on paper, Woodmore Towne Centre has a lot of promise, but he worries about its longevity.

"We have foreclosures like mad," Anderson said, referring to the county's distinction as having the highest number of foreclosures in the state. "I'm just hoping that [Woodmore] will remain."

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