Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks has focused in her first year in office on attracting businesses to the county’s inner-Beltway strip malls and improving their appearance. So when she stood alongside the owners of the Ivy City Smokehouse in the District to announce a second location in the county, she was all smiles.
“This is what we have been missing,” Alsobrooks (D) said Thursday at the popular restaurant in Northeast Washington, “a place where some of our younger residents cannot only have high-quality food, but also entertainment.”
The new restaurant will be part of the planned Hampton Park Mall in Capitol Heights, which will break ground this fall. Alsobrooks said that the arrival of the smokehouse would be an important step in bringing the sort of high-quality restaurants and shops to Prince George’s that its residents have long wanted.
“These are people who can afford to eat out and who very often come to the District,” she said, laughing that she often sees and hugs her constituents at the smokehouse, where she is a regular. “We want them to be able to have this experience at home.”
When Ivy City Smokehouse opened four years ago, it was one of the first major businesses in the now rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Northeast Washington, attracting customers with its food and a rooftop patio featuring live music.
Owner Ron Goodman said he started thinking about opening in Prince George’s after meeting Brandon Bellamy, the chief executive of Velocity Companies, which for 10 years has been working on developing Hampton Park Mall. Bellamy, a native of Capitol Heights, took him to see the site and showed him data on incomes in the area and current restaurant options.
“I’ve learned a lot, and the data sounds amazing,” Goodman said, standing in one of the restaurant’s event spaces as attendees sampled crab cakes, smoked salmon and fried shrimp.
Hampton Park Mall, just inside the Beltway, will include a 100,000-square-foot building for the county’s health department, 200 market-rate apartments, a hotel and 70,000 square feet of retail, including Ivy City Smokehouse, Bellamy said. The groundbreaking for the $133 million first phase is scheduled for Sept. 13.
Bellamy said the project was able to come to fruition because of a variety of factors. Hampton Park Mall received $14 million in tax increment financing from the county and will receive an additional $11 million from its capital improvements budget, said David Iannucci, who heads the economic development corporation.
About $35 million in private capital was raised because of the area’s designation as an opportunity zone, an area where investment is encouraged by offering federal capital gains tax breaks.
And the county’s efforts to improve the facades of strip malls that officials have identified as struggling have made it more attractive to developers.
Consultants hired by the county in 2015 gave 42 of the 241 strip malls in Prince George’s grades of “C,” “D” or “F.” Twenty-seven of the struggling strip malls, including Hampton Park, were inside the Beltway. Since then, the county has put $1.9 million toward fixing up nine strip malls.
The area surrounding Hampton Park Mall, which used to struggle with violence, homelessness and human trafficking, has also seen a decrease in criminal activity.
Alsobrooks said that in 2016, when she was the state’s attorney, the pastor of Sanctuary at Kingdom Square, a local church, asked her to help improve the area so it could be ready for new investment. She deployed community prosecutors and staff from the county’s health and social service departments to walk the streets and knock doors at the nearby motel to see what services were needed. They also taught motel staff how to recognize signs of human trafficking.
She said the area is now ready for establishments such as Ivy City Smokehouse.
“I’m looking outside, and I’m thinking, ‘Well we can replicate this times three or four in Prince George’s County because of the excitement and energy that is there,’” Alsobrooks said, gesturing toward a rooftop full of customers enjoying the summer night in the District.
Bellamy said he has often sat in community meetings in which residents ask why Prince George’s, one of the wealthiest majority African American jurisdictions in the country, does not have the same kind of higher-end development as its neighboring jurisdictions.
“We are overcoming a psychological issue,” he said. “The fact pattern doesn’t suggest that you can’t make money, so why aren’t we there? It has nothing to do with data. It has to do with emotion.”
Bellamy said that as the county continues to change, more businesses will choose to locate there — but that it requires coordination between the county, private investors and businesses willing to look at Prince George’s as it is now, not the past perception of it.