Will some magic rub off on the old Capital Centre site with the news that Earvin "Magic" Johnson will likely build a multi-screen theater there?
The return of that prospect has sparked mixed reaction from Prince George's residents.
Now that Johnson's movie theater is again under consideration for the new Boulevard at Capital Center development, Prince Georgians are considering the practical implications of having a large theater in their neighborhood. There's the convenience of having a new multiplex in the county. But there is also the possibility that the crowds attracted to the theater may include young people who will loiter.
The concerns are being weighed as the former basketball star's development corporation and partner, Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corp., rise to the top of a list of theater companies being considered by Cordish Cos. of Baltimore, developer of a 460,000-square-foot retail center at the old arena.
Johnson and Cordish Cos. are close to a deal but are still working out details, said Reed S. Cordish, vice president of the development company.
Johnson previously signed a lease to build a 16-screen theater at the proposed Boulevard at the Capital Center, but had to back out of the deal last year after Loews filed for bankruptcy protection to survive an industry glut. Loews, which recently emerged from Chapter 11, and other theater companies are beginning to return to profitability.
Prince George's former chief administrative officer Kenneth E. Glover said he is wary of having the cinema so close to the "Main Street-style" retail complex at Capital Centre, which is to include Borders Books & Music, Linens 'n Things and Pier 1.
"I'm happy that it fills out the development," Glover said. "If I were going to be here, I'd be nervous about the public safety stuff."
Glover, who departed with County Executive Wayne Curry (D) this month, said he has consistently pushed the developers to focus on public safety concerns, such as where the theater is located within the retail center. Plans call for the theaters to be an attached anchor at the $100 million development.
Glover said he would prefer a theater that is laid out more along the lines of the 14-screen Hoyts Cinema in Bowie, which is across the street from Bowie Town Centre and set apart from restaurants in the area.
"You have to think about a design that does not facilitate a public safety concern," Glover said.
Civic activist Arthur Turner sees the issue differently. As a moviegoer in Prince George's, he is ready for a new and clean cinema.
"A lot of people go to Anne Arundel, Virginia or Montgomery, where they know their feet won't get stuck to the floor because of last week's soda," said Turner, who is president of the Towns of Kettering Homeowners Association. In Prince George's "there are a lot of kids hanging out and the theaters are not well kept."
Other than the Bowie multiplex, the theaters in Prince George's are older-style cinemas, without the popular stadium-style seating available elsewhere. Johnson's development corporation -- which specializes in going into under-served minority markets -- understands those problems and will address them, Turner said.
"He [Johnson] has assured us that his theater won't operate that way," Turner said. "We need more quality theaters with stadium seating and everything else. This community is far behind."
Theresa Dudley, a Landover civic activist, agreed, saying that the theater would be good for the community.
"We need an entertainment venue," Dudley said. "Right now people are leaving the Landover vicinity and driving to Beltsville. People want to stay in their zone."
She dismissed concerns about young people hanging out or causing trouble.
"I don't think that's going to be a problem," Dudley said. "Is there a movie theater at Mazza Gallerie [in Chevy Chase]? Nobody raises these questions when they build movie theaters in more affluent areas."
Glover said that if any developer can make the project work in Prince George's, it would be Johnson.
"We were always interested in Magic's coming back in because, frankly, he's already had success in our market," Glover said, referring to Johnson's Urban Coffee Opportunities venture with Starbucks. "He knows how to do business here."