Hop Aboard for a 3-Hour Tour

At 8 a.m. Friday, 20 Prince George's County business people boarded a chartered purple bus to tour some of the county's major development sites.

"It will be a three-hour tour, and we promise you'll return," said Chamber of Commerce President Wendi M. Williams as the bus sped off.

It seemed a physical impossibility, given Capital Beltway traffic and the notoriously slow traffic on U.S. Route 1 in College Park. But led by five uniformed Prince George's County police officers on motorcycles and trailed by a large, black unmarked police department SUV, the bus zoomed by as cars were pushed to one side of Route 1.

The bus skipped through red lights to the University of Maryland at College Park's M Square research campus, which is still mostly grass and weeds. Donuts and bottled water awaited as university officials talked about plans to attract research-related federal agencies and companies to fill what they hope will be a 2.8-million-square-foot office park.

Prince George's County council member Peter A. Shapiro joined the bus at its next stop in Hyattsville, pointing out the empty brick industrial building that will someday house an African American cultural center.

For the people on the tour, though, it was also a chance to see a few places where long-discussed plans are finally happening. Also along for the tour were Jacqueline F. Brown, Prince George's County chief administrative officer; Ralph Bazilio, chamber chairman and accountant; and Michelle Moone, entrepreneur and chamber chairwoman-elect.

Prince George's police escorted the bus to the Boulevard at the Capital Center in Largo, where the business people were treated to ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery and then taken behind the eight-month-old outdoor mall to look at the site of the Largo Metro stop, where an extension of the Blue line is under construction.

Lights flashing, the motorcycle officers then led the bus to the Beltway and toward the last leg of the trip: the National Harbor site, where dirt is moving on what could eventually be 1 million square feet of retail, dining and entertainment space. The trip from Largo to Fort Washington usually takes half an hour, longer in heavy traffic. The chamber's bus trip took 20 minutes.

"They do this in Fairfax and other jurisdictions all the time," said past chamber chairman and county zoning lawyer Richard K. "Chip" Reed about the trip, designed to bring business people together and jazz them up about the county's growth prospects. "The opportunity created by this tour is to create our own perception -- because if we don't, it'll be created for us. "

Wendi Williams heads Prince George's County's Chamber.