Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Changes Slow and Steady in Mount Rainier

About 18 months ago, Prince George's County approved the amended Mount Rainier Mixed-Use Town Center Zone Development Plan to guide the city toward greater development and prosperity focused on the area of Rhode Island Avenue and 34th Street, a bid to reshape the city's urban heart and stimulate economic expansion in the historic commercial core.

"We haven’t seen a lot of changes yet," Mount Rainier City Manager Jeannelle Wallace said. "But we will, probably, in the next few months."

The City purchased land for re- development, continued a grant program, repurposed a vacant lot and will support the upcoming Citizen Paint Project.

Wallace said the City understood its importance as a gateway between the District and Maryland and purchased the former funeral home and a former liquor store in an effort to generate a new development.

"We wanted to have an impact," she said. "And you can’t do that when you have other people who own the property and control the development. So now we do."

The old funeral home sits empty at the intersection of Eastern and Rhode Island avenues, greeting traffic into and out of the District. The City put it out to bid for redevelopment with at least eight companies expressing interest in the project. Proposals now are due by May 30.

Wallace said the City would like to see a 3- or 4-story mixed-use building with retail on the ground floor, residences and office space on upper levels, and some form of onsite parking. But other plans for the site also will be considered -- the height and uses are not set in stone.

"Primarily we’re looking for something that will increase pedestrian traffic along that corridor," Wallace said, adding that contributing to the arts district and incorporating green features also would be nice.

Nisey Baylor, president of the Mount Rainier Business Association and owner of Nisey’s Boutique, said the group has not formally pushed for any one use at the site. But she said there is a real interest in bringing more retail to the city.

“People are always going to spend money,” she said. “It’s never going to stop. I see that. I feel that. I know that. We want businesses in Mount Rainier. We welcome and try very hard to work with businesses … to help them succeed.”

An RFP for the former liquor store has not yet been issued. But another vacant property already has a new life as a “kiss and ride” lot near City Hall. Wallace said the City purchased the lot for about $145,000 from a hopeful owner who was unable to acquire enough adjacent property for development. The new lot contributes to the bigger plan to improve public transportation, bicycle use and pedestrian traffic in the area.

While the city’s efforts are a step in the right direction, and the business association is working to attract new businesses, it has not been enough to realize the full vision of the development plan.  “The vision is beautiful,” Wallace said. “But whether or not it’s cost effective or even feasible at this point is another thing.”

The plan talks about widening sidewalks, increasing bicycle access, burying utility lines … – all things that require money and work. Wallace said some of the bigger changes will only come with significant development. With the real estate market still in recovery, big development has been hard to find.

But the city and residents seem committed to making the smaller steps toward change.

Wallace said the city recently received paperwork with a new agreement and funding extension that allots $125,000 to the Facade Improvement Program. Gateway Community Development Corporation (Gateway CDC) previously managed the program, funded by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, but the city took over last summer. Initial funding expired in December, prompting the extension request.

And based on Baylor’s experience, changing the fa├žade can make a huge difference. She recently utilized available grant funds to help offset costs for redoing her storefront. Simply updating her storefront, she said, encouraged people passing through to stop and look around. She encourages other businesses to do the same.  "When one customer stops in they see everybody,” she said. “That’s why everybody needs to do something.”

The community will join forces to liven-up one key property. The funeral home destined for redevelopment is the site of the April 28 Citizen Paint Project led by Gateway CDC and Joe's Movement Emporium.

"In the interim between it being demolished and now, since we are an arts district, the community has gotten together and we're going to paint the entire building," said Michael Gumpert, Executive Director of Gateway CDC. "First we’re going to clean it, then we’re going to white wash it, then an artist is going to design a mural and the community will paint it in."

The paint will be temporary, but organizers and community leaders hope the enthusiasm for improving the City will help push them closer to the vision in the Town Center Development Plan.

“I am hoping that with each year, something more and more has happened,” Baylor said. “I really believe in the very near future that we’ll see lots more of the architectural change. I really believe all these plans will come in the next 3 to 4 years.

“But we just gotta wait it out. And you gotta be a part of it.”

Mount Rainier, Maryland, real estate development news


Anonymous said...

That area of the Route 1 corridor is very strange. They have never been able to attract quality retail, even when they first built the Artist Loft which is a mixed use development. They had to move the Farmers Market from the Bass Liquor Lot to right in front of City Hall. Across the line just a few blocks further west on Rt. 1 is an area with a similar fate. They have done several surveys to get a hold on what retail residents would support. So far, only bars,liquor stores, and storefront churches.

Anonymous said...

I get the feeling change is slow because this neighborhood already offers exactly what the residents want most - affordable housing.

Anonymous said...

why would anyone from outside the neighborhood invest in a business here? no reason. it's going to take neighbors to set up something viable.

and if they want to be a night club, don't pretend to be a coffeeshop.

Anonymous said...

Right up the line in a mile or two Hyattsville has the EYA Development with Yes! Organic, Busboys and Poets and a whole host of other businesses. It's only a matter of time.

Anonymous said...

I own an old bungalow a few blocks from this proposed development area and they city needs to do something because houses in the area have lost over $200k in value over the past three years. This area was hit HARD by foreclosures and now houses that were selling for close to $300k sit on the market unsold for $60k. It's as bad as Vegas or Sacramento, except it's not getting better. It's a crazy situation for a really nice historic area with it's own quirky personality so close to D.C.

Anonymous said...

As a real estate agent, I think Mt Rainier is one of the areas best kept secrets. Residential real estate was hit hard, but I think you are going to see it slowly increase in value. It will take a while, but it will come. Development at this location is a great idea and much needed, but may be difficult for a while. It's always most difficult for the first few businesses. I think it's 5-10 years from being really sought after. The problem at that intersection is parking/excessive ticketing. I normally drive right through to areas further north to where I can park in a lot and not worry about tickets.

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Anonymous said...

I think now is the time to buy in Mount Rainier. If you wait the values maybe too high to afford. I notice a handful of homes under $300,000 that have been totally renovated. The homes in Mount Rainier from the 1900's have so much character. You would have to pay twice the cost in DC for what Mount Rainier has to offer. I going to jump on the wagon once my lease is up. Safe, schools, Art, space, historic, what more would you want?

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