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 9091 Baltimore Ave., the site of the old Mandalay Restaurant. Four months later, in Dec. 2010, I again wrote about some of the other vacant properties 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 Seven Seas, Mama Lucia’s or Bagel Place 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.