BY ALLAN WALTERS — College Park is in the midst of a multiyear plan to remake itself as a “top 20” college town in the country. As one of College Park’s closest municipal neighbors, Hyattsville is in a unique position to benefit from the growth and development that will occur over the next few years.
To achieve the vision to remake College Park, University of Maryland President Wallace Loh hired Ken Ulman, a University of Maryland graduate and former democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, to lead the “Greater College Park Initiative.” In his position of chief strategy officer for economic development, Ulman said his primary focus is on “placemaking and building relationships.”
The Greater College Park Initiative has three primary components: Dynamic Academic Spaces, a Public-Private Research Hub and a Vibrant Downtown Community. While all three components of the initiative could benefit some Hyattsville residents, it is the building of a vibrant community that will have the most impact on Hyattsville residents and businesses. A few offerings: The Hotel at the University of Maryland, a four-star hotel, will open this summer and will feature a steak and seafood restaurant from Mike Franklin, owner of Hyattsville’s Franklins Restaurant, Brewery and General Store; the newly opened Milkboy Arthouse, a dining and performing arts venue that has partnered with the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center; and Vigilante Coffee Company, which will open a second location late this summer.
The next few years will bring even more development — the largest of which is the proposed Southern Gateway Project that will be located at 7200 Baltimore Ave., the current site of a Quality Inn and the shuttered Plato’s Diner. According to Ulman, this new project will “answer a need for non-student housing and is being developed by Bozutto, who recently developed a similar project for Catholic University.”
Hyattsville is poised to play a significant role in the Greater College Park Initiative beyond just a customer base. “The use of the term ‘greater’ to have a double meaning was intentional,” said Ulman. “Our vision includes Hyattsville and College Park’s other neighbors. When I take visitors on a tour of College Park and the surrounding area, one of my first stops is usually Vigilante Coffee. I think Baltimore Avenue has the chance to become one of the region’s more dynamic places of arts and culture.”
Hyattsville businesses also benefit from their proximity to College Park. According to Ulman, a recent study of the top Uber destinations requested for University of Maryland students showed that the top two were the College Park Metro station and Busboys and Poets restaurant in the Arts District.
“The Hyattsville Arts District opened a lot of eyes,” remarked Ulman, “and showed you can develop using greater density and really enhance the community.”
Stuart Eisenberg, executive director of the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation (CDC) shares the perspective of Ulman in recognizing the need for a strong relationship between Hyattsville and the University of Maryland. In an email exchange he remarked, “the Hyattsville CDC has always felt we share a sense of common community purpose. We are pleased to see the university continuing to seek to learn from Hyattsville’s revitalization lessons and efforts.”
The fact that both Chris Vigilante and Mike Franklin were recruited to open new locations in College Park was not lost on Eisenberg. “College Park has recruited from our local business talent to get a piece of ‘Hyattsville cool,’ to replicate or create new, interesting ventures,” he said.
When asked about concerns regarding increased competition for Hyattsville businesses, Eisenberg said, “There is always concern that businesses might be affected by a saturating marketplace. That’s why we work with our local business community, work to place businesses carefully, seek to strengthen it, conduct placemaking events like the Downtown Hyattsville Arts Festival, and promote the city tirelessly.”
Hyattsville has also seen its own share of development along Route 1 over the past 10 years, and more is set to come. When asked about plans for the empty storefronts in the Arts District, Eisenberg mentioned that “the bulk of vacant storefronts in the Hamilton Street to Jefferson Street stretch are in the process of assemblage for redevelopment, which takes time. That isn’t an indicator of market weakness, just an indicator of the complexities of real estate development.”