Community needs to speak up to create something worth preserving

My Two Cents

Art Works Now purchased the Marche Florist building, and they hope to work with Pizzeria Paradiso to bring the project to Hyattsville. Photo courtesy Rebecca Bennett.

BY STUART EISENBERG — Do you want a great, kid- focused, non-profit arts school in Hyattsville, to round out our momentum-gaining Arts District? Who doesn’t want a proven, tasty, hip pizza restaurant in the neighborhood?  Gimme a slice!  If your answer is yes to these questions, then you had better get off your chair and do something about it: because it won’t happen if this community doesn’t speak up.

Artworks Studio School wants to locate its operations at 4800 Rhode Island Avenue, in the former home of the Marche Florist. However, in 2010, while the ownership of the property was in flux, county officials proposed that the building  be designated an historic resource, eligible for Historic Site status.  If that status is granted December 17 the plans for the art school and pizza place are likely done for.

The Historic Site status comes with excessively strict regulations that will inhibit necessary adaptations to the structure, and impose costly, stringent reviews, making commercially viable adaptive reuse and future improvements inordinately difficult for the nonprofit school — or, indeed, almost any future user.

Because of economic conditions and structural/design challenges, the building has sat vacant for the last eight years. It has become increasingly blighted and is a magnet for distressing activity as long as it remains in that state.

For the last seven years, in my day job at the Hyattsville CDC, I have tried to find a viable commercial user for the property. I have led dozens of interested parties to the building, only to see the business plans show too much cost and risk for the transaction to go through, or to watch the financing get turned down.

Community revitalization can be a slow, frustrating business. And when a great opportunity like the Artworks proposal comes along, you’ve got to seize it. This is exactly what the Gateway Arts District Sector Plan was designed to make happen.

Pizzeria Paradiso wants to partner with Artworks to help realize their dream of an expanded arts facility and community resource. Artworks needs a rent-paying tenant to assist with the costs of the mortgage and financing expensive rehab work that’s necessary to move forward.

Artworks has lined up grants, capital funding, and community support to adaptively reuse the premises. They’ve recruited an award-winning architect, pro bono, to design the necessary work, and current plans preserve the most distinguishing features of the building, including the glass frontage, the stone facade, and the greenhouse.

On December 17, the Historic Preservation Commission will hold a hearing to decide the status of the old florist building. If, as a community we want this great project to go forward, we need to make sure that the Commissioners know that the building doesn’t need their protection. Ironically, the future use and survival of the building is far more likely to be realized if it is not granted the severe protections that Historic Site status will impose.

You, members of the Hyattsville community, need to get involved. Write a letter, or better, come to the hearing, and speak your piece. I’ll make sure you get a ride.

Stuart Eisenberg is executive director of the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit development facilitator seeking revitalization of the Hyattsville area.