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Whole Foods opens, transit-oriented development projects moving forward in county

  • Written by  Emily Blackner, Photo by Candace Rojo Keyes
  • Published in Local
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WholeFoodsOpens 01RIVERDALE PARK – Whole Foods’ grand opening in the county has been heralded with much fanfare, but other development projects in Prince George’s are moving forward as well.

On April 12, Whole Foods opened its first store in Prince George’s County at the Riverdale Park Station. According to Scott Allshouse, president for the company’s Mid-Atlantic region, the lease was signed about six years ago, so the store has been a long time coming.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to articulate exactly how important this store is to us,” Allshouse said during the grand opening celebration last Wednesday. “Over two-thirds of our team members that work in this store are from Prince George’s County.”

The store prides itself on selling healthful foods with “all-natural ingredients that are free from artificial sweeteners, colors, preservatives and hydrogenated oils and fats,” Allshouse said. It is serving as the main anchor for the larger Riverdale Park Station mixed-use development on Baltimore Avenue. Developer Cafritz plans to include retail options, restaurants like District Taco, Mod Pizza and Burton’s Grill, a hotel and townhomes on the parcel, which is set to be served by its own Purple Line stop and by a new bridge to the office park near the University of Maryland.

“It’s wonderful to see so many people in the store, lots of energy and just amazing produce and quality of foods coming to the county,” said County Council Vice-Chair Dannielle Glaros, who represents the area. “It really does, I think, put us on the map and say this is the place to be.”

And she said the growth in the area is not done yet. ArtWorks Now is moving to its new location on Rhode Island Avenue with Pizza Paradiso. The area will also see the opening of new entertainment venue Milkboy in the coming months as well as the grand opening of the Hotel at the University of Maryland.

“By the time we get to the end of 2017, we will see more openings along this corridor than we have seen in an incredibly long time,” she said.

David Iannucci, assistant deputy chief administrative officer for economic development in County Executive Rushern Baker, III’s administration, said other areas of the county, specifically around Metro stations, are taking off as well – and that it is the result of deliberate action by the county.

“None of this is happening by accident. There’s been a plan in place,” Iannucci said. “We identified five priority Metro stations for targeted development. We’re very pleased that all five are showing significant progress.”

The stations are Prince George’s Plaza, College Park, Suitland, Branch Avenue and New Carrollton. Prince George’s Plaza already has one of the most successful food courts on the east coast, according to Iannucci. At Suitland, the county is serving as master developer for a mixed-use project near the federal office complex. In College Park, Metro is moving forward with plans to redevelop the Park & Ride Surface Lot into a multifamily residential building with ground-floor retail, with a public hearing set for next week. Iannucci said the developer for that project is Gilbane.

There are also plans for a hotel, a charter school and flex office space geared toward technology start-ups in the area around the Metro station. Those amenities, plus the bridge connecting M Square to Riverdale Park Station, will make the area more attractive for businesses, Iannucci said.

“We think the bridge will be an important connector because the employees at M Square have long complained about a dearth of amenities,” he said. “Prince George’s County has long wanted start-ups out of the University of Maryland to remain in Prince George’s County. I think this is going to be a game-changer for making that area a destination.”

At the other end of the Green Line, progress is being made at the Branch Avenue Metro station as well. Bisnow reports that Peter Schwartz, owner of 100 acres of land around the station, has secured financing for the second phase of his development project, an apartment building with 384 units set to open in summer 2018. Iannucci said Schwartz is also the “apparent successful offeror” for the new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters. The General Services Administration is still finalizing the agreement, but “there is the potential for CIS to be located at Branch Avenue Metro,” Iannucci said.

The development plan for Branch Avenue also includes restaurant and retail options after CIS opens in 2019.

Turning to New Carrollton, Iannucci said both sides of the tracks will soon see growth. Education technology company 2U chose a building adjacent to the station as their new headquarters and will be growing from around 600 employees to more than 2,000. Berman Enterprises also plans to construct an apartment building.

Earlier this month, health company Kaiser Permanente announced they will be building a 176,000-square foot administration and IT facility in a new building on the south side of the tracks, bringing up to 850 jobs to the county. The plans had been approved by the county planning board in February.

“This new building is an exciting reflection of Kaiser Permanente’s continued growth in the Mid-Atlantic region,” said Kim Horn, regional president of Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States. “I am confident employees will love working in this new space, and I am proud that we can be part of such an exciting development in the heart of Prince George’s County, where so many Kaiser Permanente employees and members live.”

Baker claimed the move as a major win for his administration.

“Kaiser’s decision today provides the county with what may be the largest single new employer of my administration,” Baker said. “This TOD (transit-oriented development) destination is going to continue to grow into a mixed use regional hub, where our residents can work, live and prosper at one of the most convenient and accessible destinations on the east coast of the United States.”

Iannucci added that nine of the existing buildings in the office park on Corporate Drive have changed hands or gone up for rent recently.

“To me, it is a sign that investors are clearly focusing on the New Carrollton Metro area as a real growth opportunity,” he said. “It is taking off much faster than expected.”

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