In the same way that they took Plato’s Diner from just another late-night eatery to one of College Park’s most beloved restaurants, owners Michelle and Tony Akaras are planning to transform a local auto parts store into a coffeehouse and wine bar that officials say will be part of the revitalization of the University of Maryland community.
From the construction of Whole Foods at one end to the Marriott University Inn at the other, the Route 1 corridor is quickly emerging as much more than a strip of outlets for college students. And according to local business owners, state lawmakers and county officials, the change is just beginning. College Park is evolving into an upscale college town.
“This vision came about because of what we want to see in our community,” said Michelle Akaras, who has lived in College Park with her husband for 20 years.
Tony Akaras said that, in the same way that Plato’s became much more than a popular outlet for Greek and American fare, the coffeehouse will also be special.
“This is going to be a social gathering place where people can come together,” he said. In addition to a full food menu, they will offer an assortment of wines, cheeses, gourmet coffees and baked goods, he said.
Paul Patel, owner of the Quality Inn next to Plato’s, is partnering with the Akaras family to build the coffeehouse. Patel, who also owns the Clarion Inn in College Park, said he is talking with developers and University of Maryland officials about the future of both of his properties.
“The vision is to grow the Route 1 corridor,” Patel said. “We need more high-density population and working families living in College Park, in addition to students and visiting families.”
The announcement about the coffee shop brought out several College Park-area lawmakers, including Maryland State Senator James C. Rosapepe (District 21), Del. Alonzo T. Washington (District 22), county Council member Danielle M. Glarios (District 3) and College Park City Council member Robert W. Day (District 3).
“The biggest issue here is attracting families, faculty and staff to this community,” Rosapepe said. “Only 4 percent of the faculty and staff live in the community. We want to have a vibrant community where faculty and staff can live.”
“We are doing a partnership with the city, county and the state,” said Carlo Colella, vice president for administration and finance at the University of Maryland. He said that collaboration aims to make Route 1 “our new main street. It will be known not just as a thoroughfare but as a place that our university and the community can enjoy amenities, restaurants, housing.”
Eric Olson, executive director of the College Park City-University Partnership, described the group’s mission. “The goal of this partnership is to create a more thriving and vibrant university community by 2020,” he said.
In addition to Route 1, Olson said things will be changing in the next few years around the College Park Metro station. “We are soliciting bids from developers, and we are optimistic that this is a hot market and that the area around Metro will be transformed.”