- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

LAS VEGAS — Prince George’s County now can be pickier about which retailers it meets with about opening stores there, County Executive Jack B. Johnson said yesterday.

Mr. Johnson is here this week trying to attract retailers at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual convention. The meeting was expected to draw about 42,000 retailers, real estate developers and brokers, and local and state officials.

Four years ago, at his first ICSC convention, Mr. Johnson met with anyone who would agree to sit down, he said. This year, retailers are coming to him.

Prince George’s County is the richest black-majority population in the nation and posted a median income of $66,750 in 2004. But for years, the county could not attract retailers and residents often shopped in other jurisdictions.

“There’s been a huge metamorphosis in terms of when I first came here, there were a lot of issues in terms of Prince George’s County’s market,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s not difficult setting up meetings anymore.”

Wegmans, a grocer that has signed deals to open two new stores in the state, including one in Prince George’s County, says the state and counties have been so supportive that it plans to open eight to 10 stores in Maryland over an undefined period.

“We’re in five states, and we’ve never seen this kind of cooperation before,” said Ralph A. Uttaro, senior vice president of real estate development at Wegmans.

A large part of the state’s effort has turned to Prince George’s County. Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said discussions with retailers at the convention often turn to the county. “Prince George’s County is the No. 1 subject on a lot of minds out here,” the Republican said yesterday.

“We give equal attention to every county,” Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development Secretary Aris Melissaratos said last week. “Prince George’s has more focus because so much is going on there. Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Howard counties all have a stable retail base. Prince George’s is in expansion mode.”

A number of recent projects have renewed interest in the county, including the Wegmans grocery store and National Harbor, a 200-acre development of retail, residential, office and hotel space on the Potomac River that is expected to open in 2008.

Part of the state’s effort is the presence of Mr. Ehrlich, the only governor attending the conference this year.

“Attention from the governor is very important,” Mr. Melissaratos said. “It becomes the clincher in these deals. It gives [the retailer] confidence.”

The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development plans to meet with nearly 30 retailers at the conference.

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