The Prince George's County government is in the midst of a $1 million shopping center refurbishing project in Palmer Park highlighted by a new concept of selling storefront business space as condominiums. The county hopes that if businessmen and women own their property rather than lease it, they will take better care of it and have more of a stake in the life of the center.

"Palmer Park is a very depressed area," said Dale Howlett, loan officer for the county's Neighborhood Business Revitalization Office. A drugstore and supermarket that once anchored the center at Barlowe Road between Sheriff Road and George Palmer Highway have left, he said. "People couldn't support them. There were two nightclubs in there, and it more or less was a hangout."

"There's been a trend in the last couple of years to sell condominiums rather than rent them," said Jack Flynn, a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Each business and owner will be a member of the center's board of managers, which will maintain and control the common areas of the center. Each unit owner will pay a monthly fee for operating expenses. The recent location of a police unit in the center and an active daytime population are expected to deter crime, Howlett said. The liquor store's bars probably will come off, he said.

Howlett said market studies show the neighborhood wants its shopping center back. Landover Mall is the closest place to shop for the 8,000 residents of Palmer Park, a community of mostly duplex and triplex homes, the average price of which is about $38,250. The suburb's claim to fame is that it is the home of champion boxer Sugar Ray Leonard. A Leonard gymnasium, in which the boxer as well as youngsters will train, will be part of the center.

The county hopes to attract convenience-food, pharmacy, drycleaning, hardward and office occupants to the center. Storefront space will sell for about $25 a square foot compared with $90 charged by private firms, Howlett said.

The other space will be used by the county health department and police crime solvers unit. The offices are scheduled for occupancy in January. CAPTION: Picture, Sugar Ray Leonard will train in his gymnasium in the Palmer Park shopping center being refurbished as a condominium at a cost of $1 million by Price George's County. By Larry Morris -- the Washington Post