When U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) sees the Route 1 corridor in Prince George's, she thinks of Silver Spring and Harlem, two once-thriving communities that had fallen down on their luck but are now enjoying a revival.
"This is what we want for Prince George's," Mikulski said, noting that the arts helped to lead to the revitalization of both places. "New jobs, new business and new vitality."
To help Route 1 in Prince George's experience its own arts-led revitalization, Mikulski and U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) announced this week that $650,000 in federal funds will be coming to the corridor to help pay for a new African American Cultural and Community Center in the county's Gateway Arts District.
The 20,000-square-foot center, which will cost an estimated $15 million, is part of the revitalization effort along Route 1 from Mount Rainier to Hyattsville. The center will be built in North Brentwood, the oldest incorporated African American town in the county.
Organizers say the money will be used to purchase the land for the building.
Nick Francis, executive director of the Gateway Community Development Corp., said the center will include an art gallery, a 200-seat theater, a sculpture garden, gift shop and dining area. It is the fourth anchor project in the $70 million initiative that began to take shape in 1998.
Gateway Arts organizers hope to draw more than 100 artists to live in partially subsidized apartments in the four municipalities -- Brentwood, Hyattsville, Mount Rainier and North Brentwood -- that make up the arts district. The joint effort involves transforming 286 acres into a neighborhood of studios, galleries and restaurants.
"This is the day; we've been waiting for this for a long, long, long time," said Anna Holmes, president of the North Brentwood Historical Society.
The money will come from the Economic Development Initiative (EDI) program.
"I wished it were $1 million, but under George Bush, it's a little hard," Mikulski said.
Johnson Still Against Slots
It was often difficult over the past year to keep track of where County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) stood when it came to slots. Did he want them in the county, or not?
There were times when it seemed he did, and then he didn't.
Now that Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos has been given the go-ahead by the owners of Rosecroft Raceway to buy the financially troubled race track, opening the debate over slot machines in Prince George's County, it's probably good to know Johnson's latest position on slots in Prince George's.
"My position on gambling hasn't changed," Johnson said Monday. "Our county is doing extremely well. We don't need gambling to finance the county.
"We don't need it. It's not going to help us. One of the governor's proposals was to give the county $8 million. We'd spend more than that in a day, probably, on public safety [if slots came to the county]."
In the middle of this year's state legislative session, Johnson wrote a 1 1/2 page letter to the county delegation saying he was opposed to slot machines coming to Prince George's.
A bill that had been approved by the Senate but later died in a House committee could have resulted in as many as four gambling venues in Prince George's, including at National Harbor, the proposed waterfront development.
The letter came after months of murkiness about Johnson's views. At a meeting last year with the county's delegates and senators, Johnson said he supported slots if the county got a sizable chunk of the proceeds. A few weeks later, he said he wasn't sure he liked the idea of legalized gambling. Then, just before the General Assembly began its session, the county executive said he was against the governor's plan to pay for education using only slots revenue.
The County Council was discussing the county's $5 million commitment to Prince George's Hospital Center Tuesday when council member David Harrington (D-Bladensburg) started talking about the sale of county property to raise an additional $5 million for the financially troubled hospital.
"Maybe we should go into executive session," he said.
The clerk asked under what conditions. The council attorney, Ralph Grutzmacher, said he needed 10 seconds.
Before the clerk's question was answered, the council voted to close the meeting.
Normally, a statute is read explaining why such a move is being taken. Asked by a reporter why the meeting was being closed and under what statute, Grutzmacher said it was under "a statute that deals with land sales. It's real."
Later, Grutzmacher said the discussion involved "bids that are on the street. The county's proprietary interests were involved."
Seeing John Erzen, a former reporter with the Sentinel, a countywide weekly newspaper, handing out news releases instead of taking one caught many by surprise at a recent news briefing in the County Administration Building.
Erzen started in the press office about two weeks ago, replacing Nancy C. Lineman, who left the administration in March to become the spokeswoman for Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
When reporters entered the room, they did a double take. The same reaction came from Council Chairman Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) and Harrington when they saw Erzen.
Erzen, who worked at the Sentinel for about 18 months covering the Johnson administration, started the press office job on June 1.
No news release was sent out announcing his arrival. Maybe that's why everyone was taken off guard.
"We wanted to give him some time before we let you loose on him," said Jim Keary, a spokesman for Johnson.
Extension for Coppage
The County Council has extended the acting status for Dale Coppage, who took over the Department of Transportation and Public Works after Betty Hager Francis's departure.
The council took the action at the request of the county executive.
Coppage, who was Francis's deputy, has been acting director of the agency since April. The action by the council keeps him in that role for four more months.