Revitalization of Gateway to Capital

"Welcome to Mount Rainier's front porch," Mount Rainier Mayor Fred Sissine said as he stood on the steps of City Hall one hot day last week.

"Our goal is to be an important antidote to sprawl and a model of smart growth through community revitalization."

As Sissine talked, he looked across Route 1 at a downtown business corridor that today is a half boarded-up remnant of a once-proud business strip. But Sissine and other local leaders say they are optimistic they can make a case that they need help.

So last week, they led a tour of the area for U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D), who said he was hopeful that lawmakers and local leaders in Prince George's--many of them part of a new generation--would have the vision and energy to see the potential in the county's close-in, if somewhat troubled, neighborhoods.

"The Route 1 corridor here in Prince George's County is rich in history and culture," Sarbanes told those gathered on the steps of City Hall. "I have had a long-standing interest in the effort to revitalize the Route 1 corridor because, after all, it is a gateway to our nation's capital." It was a rare but not surprising appearance by Sarbanes in Prince George's County. He is up for reelection in a mere two years.

Calling it "America's Main Street," Sarbanes surveyed Route 1 as he boarded a trolley to take a look at the distressed business corridor--the downtown for many historic communities from Mount Rainier to Laurel.

The trolley ride last week was organized by the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp. and the Anacostia Heritage Trails Area, a historic preservation group of elected officials and nonprofit preservation groups from 14 municipalities and unincorporated areas of Prince George's.

From Mount Rainier's Sissine to Laurel Mayor Frank P. Casula, chairman of the Anacostia Heritage Trails Area, there were plenty of local officials who offered Sarbanes a wish list for federal largess. Sarbanes said he is pushing for $1.5 million in federal funds to make road and other improvements along the corridor.

As the trolley pulled out and rolled up Route 1, it snaked through the towns of Brentwood, North Brentwood, Cottage City, Colmar Manor and Bladensburg. There, the lawmakers got off the trolley and dined on roast beef sandwiches, chips and pound cake along the banks of the Anacostia River, which held more mud and trash than water.

"You should see the river when it's low tide," said Bladensburg Town Council member Steve Caton, 37, who moved to one of the "Port Towns" a decade ago. Although Caton thinks the contractor who is dredging the river could move a little faster, he still believes that in the not-so-distant future, people and tourists will flock to a port that was part of a key battle in the War of 1812.

Bladensburg Mayor David Harrington also urged Sarbanes and others gathered to look to the future and not get obsessed with the present. "We are here to celebrate a vision," said Harrington, who dreams of the day when the Bladensburg waterfront will be filled with restaurants, shopping outlets and tourists.

Then, the elected officials reboarded the trolley and headed farther up Route 1 through Hyattsville, Riverdale Park, University Park, College Park, Beltsville and finally Laurel. As the trolley passed through the communities during the four-hour tour, the local officials had plenty to say.

The state of Maryland encourages the development of "heritage areas" that enable municipalities to qualify for grants to improve their communities. The Anacostia trails area was organized in January 1998. Local and county officials now are working to win grants and funding to revitalize sites in the Route 1 corridor.

Last week, there was some good news for the area. The county was one of 28 jurisdictions across the country that was awarded $1 million in grants and $10 million in loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to revitalize parts of the county.

The county is expected to use the money and loan guarantees to stimulate $43 million in private investment in renovations at the Eastover Shopping Center in Glassmanor, the Shoppers Food Warehouse in Oxon Hill Plaza and Prince George's Plaza in Hyattsville, where a new Sears store is planned. The aid also will help fund renovations at the Safeway Warehouse and Distribution Center in Landover.

HUD Assistant Secretary Cardell Cooper announced the federal aid package on the steps of the Mount Rainier City Hall. Cooper, former mayor of East Orange, N.J., said Prince George's has "a vision of what it wants to do to revitalize distressed communities."

County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) said he was pleased with the federal aid. It is a further sign, he said, that "these are marvelous communities here in Prince George's County."

If you have an item for Prince George's Towns, please let us know. Susan Saulny coordinates the municipal coverage. She can be reached at 301-952-2036; fax to 301-952-1397; e-mail to; or write to Prince George's Towns, Prince George's Extra, The Washington Post, 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772.

CAPTION: U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), center, spoke on the steps of Mount Rainier City Hall before boarding a trolley for a tour of the Route 1 corridor. "The Route 1 corridor here in Prince George's County is rich in history and culture," he said. Behind him are federal, state and local officials.