What's the Matter with College Park?

Hyattsville is replacing its sad old buildings with cool new stuff. Why aren't we?

On Sept. 28, 2009, I wrote about some of the vacant properties along U.S. Route 1 on my blog and included some commentary on what the city ought to do about them.

About a year later, Aug. 9, 2010, I wrote an article for Patch — my first one — about ., the site of the old Mandalay Restaurant. Four months later, in Dec. 2010, I again wrote about some of the other that line U.S. Route 1. During that time — a span of almost two years — nothing has happened with any of these places, except that they’ve all gotten a bit older and, presumably, more decrepit.

I know: two years isn't a long time. I also know that the city can’t really do anything about these buildings because the owners don’t want to sell them or developers just aren’t interested in the properties blah, blah, blah. In short — shut up about the vacant properties and move on.

I wish I could. I really, really, do. Believe it or not, I’m sick of complaining. You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Yet, during this same two-year period, as I’ve made the occasional trip up U.S. Route 1 to Franklin’s, I’ve watched Hyattsville knock down some its sorry old buildings and build new things in their place, like an “arts district” (that no artist can probably afford) with nice-looking loft-style apartments, and commercial areas with quality restaurants like Bus Boys and Poets (BB&P).

In fact, I went to Franklin’s for dinner last night and BB&P the week before, and during each dining experience, I found myself wondering, why isn’t this kind of development taking place here? What, to paraphrase the title of Thomas Frank's recent book, is wrong with College Park?

For the record, I would LOVE to spend my money within our city limits, but (as much as it pains me to say it) I hardly ever do. Sure, I go to ,  or  every now and then, but, more often than not, when it comes to taking the family out to dinner or entertaining a friend who’s visiting from out of town, I typically head to the District, Rockville, Columbia and Hyattsville. I’m not alone, either; for whenever I find myself in Franklin’s I typically run into a fellow College Parkian.

So again, what’s going on? This isn’t a rhetorical question. I really want to know, because it seems strange that our city is missing out on this stuff. We have a university with a large student body and we have families looking for places to go and things to do — these two things (alone) should put dollar signs in business people’s eyes*. But they’re not. Why?

Local elected officials: this is where you chime in.

Smith is a resident of north College Park. He blogs (occasionally) at www.ncpinformant.com and can be followed on Twitter @smithflap.

* I am aware that we have some new developments here (University II, Enclave) and the East Campus development is on the way (I hope I’m alive to see it completed), but it seems pretty clear that these are aimed at students, which is one of the two populations I’ve mentioned. What about the rest of us?

This story has been corrected. In a previous version of this story, Patch incorrectly named the author of the book alluded to in the column, What's the Matter with Kansas. We regret the error.

Patrick Wojahn August 04, 2011 at 02:34 PM
It's easy to say there's nothing going on in College Park if you only look north of Route 193. Look south, and you'll soon find about half a dozen new restaurants, of varying types and qualities - the Barking Dog, Looney's, Pizza Autentica, ChiDogO's. Soon we'll be getting Bobby Flay burgers, YoLove and an Austin Grill Express. Not to mention the restaurants like Ledo's and Jason's Deli we've gotten over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, we don't have as much going on right now in north College Park. But frankly, the area by the campus is where the money is right now, and CJ is correct about developers wanting money. Some will call it greed and some will call it "business acumen," but the student housing areas and downtown are about the only place where developers know they can make any money right now. And banks just aren't eager to finance new development until the economy bounces back. There were good developments in the works in north College Park that have fallen through because the banks aren't coming forward with financing right now. The student housing has gone forward because there's a shortage, and it's guaranteed to make money. And the restaurants wouldn't be happening if it weren't for the student housing.
Patrick Wojahn August 04, 2011 at 02:37 PM
Not to say we don't have anything going on in north College Park. Azteca should be opening any day now (*fingers crossed*), and there should, in the next couple of years, be a new retail development in front of the Mazza where Jordan Kitt's recently closed (again, retail near student housing). If the economy ever recovers and they sort out all the scandals, we'll see the Greenbelt Station and JPI projects (which already have approved site plans) move forward, as well as the Hollywood Station project at the corner of Edgewood and US 1. Of course, all the shenanigans that just happened around the debt ceiling aren't helping financiers come forward with development funds.
Linda Lachman August 04, 2011 at 03:35 PM
If you favor Asian cuisine, don't overlook the delicacies made available daily, right behind Town Hall, at "HANAMI." A deceptively simple little storefront, where they serve quality sushi, and more, to please the palate. Our friends from Hyattsville, Silver Spring and surrounding areas come HERE for great food.
Shannon Hoffman August 04, 2011 at 04:13 PM
Linda, I went there for the first time a few weeks ago. Good food, and the service was great.
Pamela Torro August 04, 2011 at 05:55 PM
Agreed! Hanami is AMAZING!! And recently they were approved for a beer and wine license.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »