Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected and clarified from its original post. In the previous post, we misidentified The Metropolitan Shops at Prince George’s Plaza and The Mall at Prince Georges as Prince George’s Plaza. We regret this error.
When Patch initially wrote a story about Whole Foods coming to Riverdale Park's Cafritz Property, some readers began comparisons between how development at University Town Center stalled and drawing conclusions between the two.
But, Stuart Eisenberg from Hyattsville Community Development Corporation, said that poor timing and the economy are some of the reasons why some local developments are struggling to reel in consumers.
Eisenberg said that some county officials have worried that a new development, like the one slated for Cafritz’ property, would pile upon the issues of other developments nearby, like the University Town Center (UTC) or The Metropolitan Shops at Prince George’s Plaza, if not successful. But they have special circumstances.
“[UTC] didn’t listen to advice about marketing,” he said.
The University Town Center did not publicize themselves enough while they were in the process of building, and Eisenberg observed that some errors were made. The development itself isn’t bad, but management failed to effectively communicate their services, and in turn, has yet to drive in more consumers.
Additionally, financing dried up for their surrounding condos, he said. The development unveiled their doors during a rough time while the economy lagged, and though it started as a great idea, they were hit heavily by the recession.
That financial storm was also part of the reason Safeway did not build another store at UTC, which was originally planned along the north side of East West Highway, Eisenberg said. The developer did not have a tenant for the empty space that would go above the store, which was slated to be a hotel before the hotel pulled out of the deal “due to the economy.”
And while UTC struggles to attract new customers, The Mall at Prince Georges serves what is described as a market segment. And although The Metro Shops may appear to be failing, that development fits part of the town’s demographic and has become profitable since its inception. The Mall at Prince Georges may not be the most effective use around a metro station, Eisenberg said, but it can transition into something very different over time.
“Just because one demographic doesn’t like it, doesn’t mean [another demographic won’t] either,” he said.
County officials are caught in a conflict, though, as Patch reported in a previous story. They are split between the possibility of a Whole Foods Market joining the neighborhood on the Cafritz Property. Although they welcome the status it would give them and its promise to reach out to a different demographic, the cost to compromise on their existing plan for the space may be high.
“The land use is for single-family housing,” Eisenberg said. “But the site lacks the infrastructure necessary to support the density.”
The East Campus Development’s market analysis on University of Maryland’s property showed that the region could only support 1/16th of what the proposed retail volume was. Building a well-known development would require bringing in more consumers from outside of the community. Such a destination center could in turn lure in more retail, he said.
While having a Whole Foods in Riverdale Park sounds like a good idea to some of the town, luring in so many consumers may congest the area at Cafritz’ location. Therefore, the plan must be scrutinized before approval.
“Doesn’t mean that [the plan] is good or bad,” Eisenberg said. “The community has to take a special look at it to see if it fits.”
Chip Reed, attorney representing the Cafritz Property owners, said that they hope to design the center in a way that it'll be attractive.
"It’ll be outwardly oriented, and not inwardly focused," Reed said. "My understanding is that UTC’s problem was its design and execution, and not based on market demand."
Whole Foods, which already signed a lease with Cafritz property owners, will be a 35,000-square-foot store, about half the size of Giant on East West Highway, he said. The Riverdale location is already listed on their site as "stores in development."
"It'll be the first of its kind in the area," he added, saying it will appeal to a specific demographic. "We hope to have some data and studies to support that and to address community concerns about market demand."
According to Eisenberg, the sector plan from downtown College Park and East-West Highway doesn’t account for the development of the Cafritz Property, as proposed. The route 1 zoning is rather a vision of the community, developed after in-depth studies to understand the community’s wants and needs. The zoning makes it easier for developers to identify where the infrastructure lies to appropriately fit their needs.
But that vision is flexible and developers can add on to what a community may not have seen in the beginning.
“When a property owner asks to change zoning, they’re asking to change the vision,” he said, noting that for developers the change in zoning may help them make more money.
Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer said at the May 31 work session that he hopes to use some of the town's economic development funds to help the town determine what their vision is for the property as well.
"For several years we’ve gone back and forth on design, but we need to come out with a thorough proposal and work with what we like," Archer said at the meeting. "We should be able to come up with a pretty good vision of what we want and what we don’t want."
He said he's excited about Whole Foods wanting to come to Riverdale Park, but wants to work with them on design so it's not too big for the town.
Council also discussed thoughts on opening roadways to bypass Route 1 traffic, conducting a service analysis to determine the tax-base that would come from developing this project and how this development could help boost development in town center.
Sonia Dasgupta contributed to this post.