- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

The flurry of development near the Prince George’s Plaza Metro stop in Hyattsville, including last weekend’s opening of Hyattsville’s first movie theater in decades, has sparked a grass-roots campaign among city officials and developers to get the word out about the changes in the city.

University Town Center, Belcrest Center and the Mall at Prince George’s, which share a corner at East-West Highway and Belcrest Road, and the city of Hyattsville are exploring options to give the new commercial district an identity.

“Our joint effort has been to brand that commercial corridor as one vibrant area for shopping, for living and for a place of business,” said Bill Gardiner, mayor of Hyattsville.

The developers have floated ideas such as forming a business improvement district and renaming the Metro station — which is called Prince George’s Plaza after the mall’s former name — to something that combines all aspects of the commercial corridor. But ideas are still in the early stages.

About two years ago, the city of Hyattsville got the ball rolling. The City Council voted to establish a marketing task force, which last year released a new logo and slogan — A World Within Walking Distance — for the city.

Hyattsville, once known for its collection of car dealerships along Route 1, is also commonly misidentified as a large “Hyattsville area” — sometimes identified with crime, Mr. Gardiner said. In reality, it’s a three-square-mile city with 18,000 residents.

“We need to toot our horn a little bit and make sure people understand there is a small, incorporated community — the city of Hyattsville, which has a lot to offer in terms of the diverse housing stock, people from around the world and walkable communities,” Mr. Gardiner said. “Not to take away from the other areas around us, but we want to try to make sure people know the incorporated community of Hyattsville has its own identity.”

The developers clearly have an incentive to help the city refine its image, too.

The city “would really like to see a branding of that area [on East-West Highway]. We would, too; it helps the whole area,” said Jennifer Rademacher, chief operating officer at Taylor Development and Land Co., which is building Belcrest Center, a 22-acre mixed-use project at the Prince George’s Plaza Metro station.

She wants them to make East-West Highway into a destination, similar to town centers in Herndon, Reston or Bethesda.

“I think you’re going to attract people from outside the area that way,” she said. “We have the Metro station, that’s great. But we want to bring in more people, more money, more everything into this area.”

That’s starting to happen.

University Town Center’s student housing building, Towers, has been open for one academic year. Restaurants such as Old Dominion Brew House, Southern-themed Carolina Kitchen and Three Brothers Italian Restaurant are scheduled to open in August.

“There’s a real revitalization of this area … that’s really catching on now. It’s tremendous,” said Tim Taylor, vice president of leasing at Prince George’s Metro Center, which is developing University Town Center.

The Royale 14 Cinemas — the first in Hyattsville in more than 30 years, according to Mr. Gardiner — will anchor an entertainment destination at the center.

“Hyattsville specifically seems to have been underserved in terms of a true movie-going experience,” said Rhonda Cook, director of real estate for Consolidated Theatres.

Circuit City, the first tenant at Belcrest Center’s retail component, Metropolitan Shops, is scheduled to open later this month. Also at Belcrest, 260 apartments are slated to open late this year and construction is scheduled to start in September on 300,000 square feet of office space. The development has a letter of intent from Marriott International Inc. to build a Marriott Courtyard hotel on the site.

In 2004, the Mall at Prince George’s completed a renovation that increased the square footage to 1.1 million. Last year, Marshalls and Ross Dress for Less opened in the mall.

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