BOWIE—The Mayor and City council unanimously approved a deal to give $975,000 for a marketplace on the Route 450 corridor, but at least one local business owner is concerned about his store’s viability.
The plan approved by the city council provides the developer, Berman Enterprises, with $975,000 in “economic incentives” to demolish the existing site, described by several members of the council and City Manager David Deutsch as an “eyesore,” and redevelop it into a viable high-end shopping center.
“I really want to see this project to fruition, because I am so tired of looking at this eyesore,” Councilwoman Diane Polangin said. “I’ve been here since 1962, so I know what a viable place it was before and I certainly would like to see it become a viable place again.”
“Currently the marketplace can be best described as a dying shopping center that is both visually and structurally decaying and is long past its revenue generating, economic prime years,” Deutsch said in a memo to the council.
According to the agreement, the marketplace has had a vacancy rate of more than 50 percent since 2001. In addition, the marketplace has been the subject of numerous code violations and suffers from poor traffic circulation.
Brian Berman, a partner at Berman Enterprises, said finding a grocery tenant for the marketplace is a key piece of the puzzle for the development. After 18 months of negotiations, Berman said the company is “very close” to agreeing on a lease agreement with Harris Teeter. Constructing the lease agreement has been difficult, Berman said, because Harris Teeter insists on having the ability to operate a gas pad in the marketplace and relocating a wine and spirits store to the same location.
“A lot of work has been done, a lot of progress has been made and we are very excited about that,” Berman said. “We’re only interested in doing a high-end retail grocery environment. (Harris Teeter) is taking a leap of faith with us, the city of Bowie and Prince George’s County.”
Ron Ciuffetelli, owner of the Shell service center in the same shopping center, said he needs the customers the new marketplace will bring, but he is nervous about competing with a Harris Teeter gas station.
“We’re surprised it has even gotten to this point,” Ciufetelli said at last Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting. “We know you want it bad. Yeah, I want it. But I don’t want it to get pushed through because we’re going to be the sacrifice for the development here.”
If Shell loses customers to the Harris Teeter gas station, Ciufetelli said he will have to close his service center because the business will not be viable.
“We can’t sustain that kind of hit,” Ciufetelli said. “We’re getting hit on the volume side, but also, what everybody forgets, we’re going to get hit on cigarette sales, the sodas, the lighters. We’re losing two-thirds of our business right away.”
Harris Teeter will not sign a lease with Berman Enterprises, Berman said, without having the right to have a gas station and the relocation of a wine and spirits store in the same place.
Ike Udejiofor, a resident of the city, said he thinks the development will be great for the city, but the council needs to keep its eyes open for opportunities.
“What I want is to look at and consider is the economic development aspect of Bowie, job creation potential and the strategic priorities of the city of Bowie and how this project ties all of those in,” Udejiofor said.
The city needs to make sure it is getting the most out of its investment, he said.
“There are so many things I think need to be fished out and looked at overall for Bowie,” Udejiofor said.
Along with Harris Teeter other, Berman said the marketplace has agreements in place with with Rite Aid, Sweet Frog, Firehouse Subs, Chipotle, Patient First, Petco, Day Spa and Glory Days Grill.