Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) took three of his top aides to Las Vegas last week, not to play the slots, but to try for the big score: to lure top-name retailers to the county.
It was the Johnson administration's first trip to the International Council of Shopping Centers' spring convention, a massive trade show attended by nearly 36,000 retailers, brokers and mall developers. Johnson and his team met with more than 30 retailers and developers over three days.
They handed out maps promoting nine retail sites. The map, titled "Hot Retail Opportunities: Prince George's County, Maryland," also outlines the other major retailers in the county and lists contact numbers for local developers.
County residents have been pining for high-end retailers for years, but they have been slow to come. At the convention, Johnson pitched the county's demographics. Prominently displayed on the promotional map is a guide to average household incomes in the county, most of which range from $60,000 to $110,000.
"This is a huge amount of disposable income," Johnson said from inside the county's booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center. "If we have equal resources, we should have equal opportunity to spend our money in our neighborhoods."
Johnson was accompanied by Kwasi Holman, president of the county's Economic Development Corp.; Thomas M. Thompson, director of housing and community development; and Iris Boswell, special assistant to the county executive.
"We were all over the place, with meetings every 30 minutes," Holman said after returning to Prince George's. "It was exhausting and exhilarating."
Johnson said he and his team told retailers that the county would do everything possible to make development easy, including the permit process. National retailers that have opened in the county recently have been rewarded, Johnson said. Several major stores have exceeded their original sales projections, including Ikea in College Park, he said. In some cases, sales are 40 percent better than store managers had expected, and the chains at Bowie Town Center are reporting some of their best sales in the country, he said.
Les Sax, a retail broker active in the county, was also in Las Vegas looking for tenants. He is trying to attract stores that sell furniture, toys and music to fill 10,000 square feet of vacant space at the Shoppes at Bowie Town Center, a 104,000-square-foot project behind Bowie Town Center. David's Bridal, Factory Card & Party Outlet and Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse opened there last month, he said.
Based on his conversations at the convention, Sax said, he expects to be fully leased by July.
Sax started attending the annual gathering in the 1980s and said similar networking by Johnson and his team will pay dividends.
"[D.C. Mayor] Anthony Williams has been going for years. The state of Maryland had their own booth this year. It's always helpful," Sax said. "When you look at what's going on in the county, between our new center and the success of Bowie Town Center in general . . . retailers are pretty excited about coming into Prince George's County. The whole metro area is a target for retailers."
Johnson said he made sure businesses knew about 15 Metro stops in the county that officials have earmarked for economic development. The nine projects Johnson promoted on the fold-out map he gave to developers include: Beltway Plaza, Greenbelt Station and Greenway Center in Greenbelt; Belcrest Center, Prince George's Plaza and University Town Center in Hyattsville; Bowie Town Center in Bowie; and the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Landover. The National Harbor project -- including 7 million square feet of retail, dining and entertainment space in Oxon Hill -- which was also included in the map, will break ground on the first phase of the project in four or five months, Johnson said.
The county's goal at the convention was to establish relationships with retailers who cater to every income level, Holman said. In one case, the county secured a verbal commitment from a major retailer, whose name Johnson would not disclose.
Krissah Williams reported from Washington and Michael Barbaro reported from Las Vegas.