Greater Greater Washington

Largo is transit-ready for Whole Foods

Recently, there has been quite a bit of hoopla among northern Prince George's County residents over whether the Cafritz Property, a single-family residential-zoned tract in Riverdale Park, is an appropriate transit-oriented place to locate the county's first Whole Foods Market.


Photo from Google Earth.

Meanwhile, in central Prince George's, at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo, there sits a large, recently-vacated anchor tenant space, formerly occupied by Borders Books, where the iconic organic grocer could locate and be open for business within a matter of months.

The Boulevard is an open-air, Main Street-style shopping center with 485,000 square feet of retail space. It was built in 2003 on the site of the former Capital Centre sports arena, which was (until 1997) the home arena for the Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, and the Georgetown University Men's Basketball team.

It is located just off of the Capital Beltway at Arena Drivesteps away from the Largo Town Center Metro Station on the Blue Line, and approximately one mile away from FedEx Field.


Boulevard at the Capital Centre. Image from Google Earth.

Borders Books was one of the Boulevard's original anchor tenants. However, in 2011, Borders shut its doors as part of the company's bankruptcy and eventual nationwide liquidation. The space, pictured below, has been vacant ever since.


Former Borders Books at the Blvd at Cap Centre. Image from Google Earth.

Based on the guidelines established by Whole Foods for consideration of new retail locations, the old Borders space at the Boulevard is an ideal site. This is what the retailer says it is looking for:

  • 200,000 people or more in a 20-minute drive time
  • 25,000-50,000 square feet
  • Large number of college-educated residents
  • Abundant parking available for our exclusive use
  • Stand alone preferred, would consider complementary
  • Easy access from roadways, lighted intersection
  • Excellent visibility, directly off of the street
  • Must be located in a high traffic area (foot and/or vehicle)
Let's see how the old Borders space matches up. In terms of demographics, more than 252,000 people live within a five-mile radiuswell within a 20-minute drive. In addition, all Blue Line Metrorail stations from Capitol South eastward to Largo Town Center are within a 20-minute ride of the Boulevard (and within a 20-25 minute drive on a good day). This dramatically increases the population count within the target area of this retail space.

The average household income in the immediate three-mile radius is $80,600, and more than 64% of the adult population within a one-mile radius of the Boulevard has either attended or graduated from college. Taking into account the entire area within a 20-minute drive or Metro ride of the Boulevard, including the affluent and highly-educated Capitol Hill neighborhood, the household income and educational attainment levels increase significantly.

The old Borders space is also very well situated, meeting all of Whole Foods' desired site location criteria. It is clearly visible from Arena Drive, just off of a lighted intersection. There are multiple signalized vehicle access points to the Boulevardtwo from Arena Drive at the north end, and one from Harry S. Truman Drive at the south end. In addition, there is a lighted pedestrian path (near Truman Drive) that provides direct access to the Boulevard from the Largo Town Center Metro station.

Finally, there is ample parking directly in front of the store space that would be available for the near-exclusive use of Whole Foods customers. Simply put, in terms of foot and vehicle traffic, visibility, and parking availability, few locations in Prince George's County can match it.

Aside from the necessary construction to convert the old Borders space from a bookstore into an upscale specialty grocery store, Whole Foods would need to do very little work to get the store up and running. At 22,915 square feet, this one-story stand-alone space is currently slightly smaller than the Whole Foods stated minimum goal of 25,000 square feet. However, as you can see from the above picture, the space was built with a faux second floor, complete with ample window lighting.

Although I am not an architect or structural engineer, it seems that it should be feasible to add the necessary floor and ceiling to convert this space into two actual storiesin which case, there would be nearly 44,000 square feet of usable space. If not, the existing space is sufficient for a specialty grocer like Whole Foods. Similar competitors, like Greensboro, North Carolina based The Fresh Market, regularly build stores that are about 20,000 square feet.

So what would be the downside, from Whole Foods' perspective, of coming to the Boulevard? Sure, the Boulevard has had its challenges over the years with crime and rowdy teens, but so have other great Metro-accessible shopping centers, like Gallery Place and DC USA in the District. The Boulevard has also had the misfortune of having three of its anchorsBorders, Circuit City, and Linens 'N Thingsfile for bankruptcy and close their doors.

Recently, though, things have been looking up for the Boulevard. HH Gregg and Shoppers World have taken over the Circuit City and Linens 'N Things spaces, and a new T.G.I. Friday's recently opened in the space vacated by Uno's Chicago Grill. The Boulevard's property managers have instituted a "Parental Escort Policy" that has been successful in discouraging teenagers from loitering.

Increased security and police presence throughout the Boulevard have improved both public perceptions and the realities of safety. Furthermore, it should be noted that the old Borders property is located on the opposite end of the mall, far from the movie theater and other venues that attract many of the youngsters.

The success of the nearby Woodmore Town Center development, which houses a Wegmans grocery store, Costco, Best Buy, and other retailers, shows that there is sufficient spending power in central Prince George's County to make a speciality grocer like Whole Foods extremely profitable.

Indeed, locating a Whole Foods at the old Borders Books store at Boulevard at the Capital Centre offers two advantages that Woodmore Town Center cannot: walkable proximity to Metro and direct visibility from a major street. (Not to mention that Whole Foods probably could not open at Woodmore anyway, given the likelihood of a restrictive covenant in favor of Wegmans that would prohibit another grocery store in that development.)

Whatever decision the Prince George's County Planning Board and County Council eventually make regarding the rezoning of the Cafritz Property in Riverdale Park, it will likely result in years of litigation before Whole Foods, or any other commercial retailer, can start developing there. Local opposition to that new greenfield development is stiff (e.g., see here and here.)

Whole Foods cannot and should not wait that long to bring a store to Prince George's County. Neither should Whole Foods think that there can be only one of its stores in the entire county. The old Borders Books at Boulevard at Capital Centre in Largo is "transit ready" and waiting for a store like Whole Foods.

If you agree that Whole Foods (or another specialty grocer like The Fresh Market) should come to the Boulevard, contact the following people and let them know you support the idea:

  • Whole Foods' Master Broker for Maryland: Mark J. Katz, H&R Retail, 2800 Quarry Lake Drive, Suite 320, Baltimore, MD 21209; Email: mkatz@HRRetail.com; 410-308-6366.
  • The Fresh Market's Director of Real Estate for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Region: James Dewey, 628 Green Valley Road, Suite 500, Greensboro, NC 27408; Email: jamesdewey@thefreshmarket.com; 336-272-1338.
  • Property Manager for Boulevard at the Capital Centre: Mark Nicholas, Inland US Management, LLC, 2901 Butterfield Rd, Oak Brook, Illinois 60523; Email: nicholas@inland-western.com; 866.646.5263.
  • Brokerage Contact for Boulevard at the Capital Centre: Ryan Wilner, KLNB, LLC, 100 West Road, Suite 505, Baltimore, MD 21204; Email: rwilner@klnb.com; 443.632.2058
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Bradley Heard is an attorney and citizen activist who resides in the Capitol Heights area of Prince George's County. A native of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Brad spent most of his adult life in Atlanta, Georgia before moving to Prince George's County in 2007. Brad hopes to encourage high-quality, walkable and bikeable development in the inner Beltway region of Prince George's County. 

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Not exactly the sort of area Whole Foods would like to be associated with

by TGEOA on Jan 24, 2012 10:38 am • linkreport

The size of the store argues for a Trader Joe's rather than a Whole Foods. TJ's seems not to care that much about what the space looks like, as long as they can fit in their merchandise and want to be in a particular area. For example, the one in Rockville is clearly a little too big. The one in Bethesda is way too small. TJ's would have broader economic appeal than Whole Foods but the cheap chic image would draw some of the Wegman's trade. If the center wants to discourage youth, TJ's would draw the kind of adult cleintele they'd want to build.

by Rich on Jan 24, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

That might work eventually but perhaps you are too far ahead of the curve here. I think your vision needs to be synthesized with the Largo Town Center TOD plan and the actual timing of projects to convert the commercial monoculture of that area to something resembling mixed use

by Jim Titus on Jan 24, 2012 11:31 am • linkreport

Not exactly the sort of area Whole Foods would like to be associated with

I would have thought that as well but did you read the stats? Average household income of $80K sounds like the Whole Foods crowd. Also, as the only WF in PG, it would probably draw folks from even wealthier parts of the county (the wealthiest minority majority county in the country).

Overall, it sounds like a much better site than Riverdale and there would likely be a lot less community opposition.

The one issue I didn't see addressed is Redskins traffic on 8 Sundays of the year. Bear in mind that Sunday is the busiest day of the week for groceries. Maybe it's good because Whole Foods will be the only nearby place to pickup tailgating supplies. Or, maybe it will be bad because traffic is terrible on game days. Personally, I think the tailgate supply scenario is more likely.

by Falls Church on Jan 24, 2012 11:38 am • linkreport

Taking into account the entire area within a 20-minute drive or Metro ride of the Boulevard, including the affluent and highly-educated Capitol Hill neighborhood, the household income and educational attainment levels increase significantly.

If you honestly think that Capitol Hill residents around Eastern Market, Lincoln Park, or Stanton Park would ever drive or Metro out to Prince George's County to go to a grocery store, you're insane. They'll go to the Whole Foods in Logan, the new Harris Teeter on Potomac Avenue, the Safeway on 14th Street, or the new Safeway at SW Waterfront, all of which have ample free parking, long before they go out there. I don't even think most people on the Hill could find Largo if they had to... If Whole Foods wants Hill shoppers, they need to build in the Capitol Riverfront or find some infill space on the Hill itself.

by shawcitizen on Jan 24, 2012 12:09 pm • linkreport

Great idea! Thanks for the post.

by ccorrt on Jan 24, 2012 12:22 pm • linkreport

As someone who lives 15 minutes from the Blvd. at Capital Center and now hardly ever goes there, I can say the first thing the owners must do is focus on safety, real and perceived.

The Blvd was a great concept that was quickly ruined by the knuckleheads who came over from SE DC (some by Metro) with their obnoxious and criminal behavior.

Thanks to them, many of the better stores and restuarants have been vacated and most of what's that's left, especially on the "street-like" section are low-end retail like sneaker shops, fast food and weave stores. Starbuck's is gone. The Italian cafe is gone. The upscale seafood restuarant is gone.

Not only have they ruined the shopping center, they've made the adjecent Largo Metro station one of the system's most dangerous.

Whole Foods isn't coming to a dangerous, low-end glorified mall (call it a "town center" if you want) even if it is "transit-oriented" (which it's not).

Clean up the place. Chase out - and KEEP out - the riffraff. Then we can talk about a Largo Whole Foods. Which, BTW, I would love to see.

by ceefer66 on Jan 24, 2012 12:26 pm • linkreport

@ shawcitizen: People on the Hill know exactly where Largo is. They ride the Metro to Redskins games, don't they? Nevertheless, the larger point is that the area around Largo already meets the demographic criteria for a Whole Foods, even without Capitol Hill. I also don't think it's correct that Blue Line riders in DC wouldn't come out to Largo if a Whole Foods were there. Hopping on Metro and riding to Largo is much easier for someone at Stadium-Armory, Potomac Ave, or Eastern Market than riding to McPherson Sq. and hoofing it to the Whole Foods on P Street -- and parking is definitely easier at the Boulevard than it is on P Street.

@ ceefer66: As I said, having been there myself recently, the landlords have actually done a lot to improve the safety/security/rowdy teen issues at the Boulevard. And Largo Town Center Metro Station's crime stats are actually better than Gallery Place, and on par with L'Enfant Plaza and College Park.

Starbucks and the other restaurants didn't leave because of the "rifraf" -- they left because the Boulevard had lost a bunch of its anchor tenants (and, therefore, many of its customers) due to the downturn in the economy. But now that the anchor spaces are becoming reoccupied, the Boulevard is on the upswing.

I do agree with you, though, that the landlords need to do a better job recruiting the right kind of tenants. And a high-end grocery store in that Border's space would definitely be a good fit. Trust me, Starbucks (or Caribou or someone else) will run back to the Boulevard if Whole Foods or The Fresh Market comes to town.

by Bradley Heard on Jan 24, 2012 12:56 pm • linkreport

Bradley, I see your bio says you want "to bring high-quality, walkable and bikeable development to the inner Beltway region of Prince George's County."

Of course, this site is outside the beltway and would hardly be considered walkable or bikeable (hands up if you want to carry bags of groceries with a child or two in tow across a sea of parking). Whether or not most will be walking or biking to the Cafritz property, it is by any measure, much more conducive to those modes of travel.

Apropos of nothing, have you ever spoken before the Mt. Rainier city council? I remember someone who looked very similar to you (whose name I never caught), that came to council with every new urbanist buzz word in his pocket hoping to get a "consulting" gig with the city for an infill project there.

by thump on Jan 24, 2012 1:08 pm • linkreport

Bradley,

I agree and I hope you're right.
I would love to see Whole Foods - and other stores like Caribou, etc.

I for one am tired of having to leave the County every time I want to shop somewhere other than Safeway or Macy's.

by ceefer66 on Jan 24, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

Well, while I think it's a stretch, you've laid out a decent argument. You might want to consult with Carol Felix, who led the campaign to get what is now Whole Foods to put a store on P Street between 14th and 15th Streets.

- http://abdo.com/press/18821%20Abdo.pdf
- http://asne.org/Key_Initiatives/Awards/View_winning_entry/ArticleId/1686/Anne-Hull-The-Washington-Post.aspx

The Main Street Center did a training about it afterwards and a manual, Community Initiated Development.

Anyway, to me, Dupont Circle at 14th Street was a no brainer for Whole Foods, even though at that time, 14th Street was bombed out. But that's not how these retailers think.

This article describes how retailers like Whole Foods approach store location decisions:

http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jul2005/tc2005076_7033.htm

FWIW, Fresh Market is a real stretch, more than Whole Foods.

But yes, people's comments that just because DC residents are in the retail trade area for this site, they aren't going to go there is likely true, and will drive Whole Foods' decision. There's a reason why they are interested in US 1, because of the demographics, relative safety, proximity to the University, etc.

by Richard Layman on Jan 24, 2012 1:31 pm • linkreport

@ShawCitizen, although it an ugly read, I actually agree with you that Cap Hill residents won't go to the Whole Foods in Largo. It makes no sense and even less sense does it make for the author to propose ANYTHING being built in that area to draw in (not a Hillcrest DC, Fort Stanton crowd) but a Cap Hill Crowd.

Uhmm, ceefer, while safety is an issue, I don't see how that has forced those businesses to come to a complete shut down. Borders didn't close because of it. The Chicken/Waffle joint didn't close because of safety. The football player's spot? The Asian (of sorts) restaurant? Is that still there?

Further, it's not a stretch to conclude that the riffraff you're talking about didn't just come from DC. They also came from the homes of those described in this very article..with the bells and whistles.

by HogWash on Jan 24, 2012 1:31 pm • linkreport

Oh and although it's not walkable. I absolutely love the Wegmans...location and the store itself.

by HogWash on Jan 24, 2012 1:33 pm • linkreport

@ Richard: Thanks for the links!

@ Thump: Nope, I've never been to a Mt. Rainier council meeting and am not interested in a consulting gig. And yes, while the Boulevard is technically at the Beltway's edge, for these purposes, I'd consider it pretty much "inside" the Beltway. I agree that the developers of the Blvd could've made the shopping center relate better to the Metro station, but the reality is that the station is still adjacent to the mall site, with a clear ped path that doesn't require excess traversing of the parking lot.

@ HogWash: All I know is people from DC (including Capitol Hill folks), Bowie, Upper Marlboro, etc., drive out to Wegmans and Costco all the time, and that's just one exit up from Arena Drive and the Boulevard. So it absolutely makes sense for a retailer to consider the whole area within a 20-minute drive or Metro ride. But even if they didn't, the demographics of the immediately surrounding upper-middle-class area clearly would support a Whole Foods.

The point is, if the Boulevard at Cap Centre gets tenants (like WF or FM) that draw people in, people will drive or Metro out there to patronize them.

by Bradley Heard on Jan 24, 2012 2:59 pm • linkreport

Bradley, I think you've made a good case for Whole Foods in Largo, but there are a few caveats:

1) I'm not convinced that people in Capitol Hill will go here because the WF in Logan Circle is much closer, even by car. And are grocery stores in Prince George's always allowed to sell beer & wine? The Whole Foods in MoCo can't, and if they can't in Largo, DC customers especially won't make the trip.

2) I wouldn't call the Boulevard "transit-oriented" so much as "transit-adjacent." The route from the Metro is circuitous and not very intuitive. Placing the parking lots between the stores and the transit ensure that people will want to drive here, and the lack of mixed uses ensure that no one can actually walk here. Comparing this to DC USA or Gallery Place, both of which are practically on top of Metro stations, isn't really a fair comparison.

3) Finally: In The Failures of Integration author Sheryll Cashin (who lives in DC and teaches at AU, I think) writes about how high-end retailers overlook places like Prince George's County, despite the wealth of areas like Bowie and Mitchellville, because these neighborhoods are predominantly black. It sucks, and it's wrong, and it's a sign of the greater problems afflicting our society.

Things are changing: witness big-box stores locating at DC USA in Columbia Heights, whose demographics don't look good on paper but can actually turn out a lot of sales. But even if Whole Foods was interested in doing "the right thing," they'd probably just locate at the Cafritz Property, which is a mixed-income and mixed-race area but can rely on proximity to U-Md. for the crunchy, well-heeled shoppers that Whole Foods goes for.

That said: this is a good analysis. Prince George's needs more advocacy like this if retailers and investors are going to take the county, its residents, and those residents' pocketbooks seriously.

by dan reed! on Jan 24, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

@shawcitizen--I must agree with you that Hill residents like myself would never trek out to Largo for a WF. Plus, WF blew its chance with Hill residents (or perhaps the DC government blew the chance) when the deal for a WF near the Navy Yard metro fell through.

A reminder to everyone else: There is a brand new WF right across from the Foggy Bottom metro. Makes for a very easy trip from Capitol Hill (and you can work in a trip to TJ's!)

by MJ on Jan 24, 2012 3:07 pm • linkreport

@Bradley, I don't disagree and absolutely believe that the Boulevard is a good location. My point (of sorts) is that I don't have a preference between the two locations..I just want there to be one.

I travel from SEDC to Wegmans at least once a month so it wouldn't matter if the area were more walkable.

I think there is a much better case to be made for why Cap Hill residents will travel to the Wegman's or Costco than another Whole Foods. There are at least two much closer w/Parking w/o having to travel out to Lanham. That's not to say that no Hill resident wouldn't do it but that it's not entirely logical.

by HogWash on Jan 24, 2012 3:18 pm • linkreport

I wonder how many people make snap judgments about places like Largo without ever having been there?

There's a solid case here. If someone has numbers to refute them, I want to see it. The first comment in this thread has some disturbing undertones to it.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jan 24, 2012 3:24 pm • linkreport

"I wonder how many people make snap judgments about places like Largo without ever having been there?"

------

Geoffrey,

I actually live three miles from Largo - in Bowie. I was one of the first to support The Blvd complex when it opened in 2004 and as a (then) newcomer to PG County, I wanted nothing more than to see it succeed. But it was soon overrun with low-lifes who came out to steal, rob, vandalize and litter. And I know lots of people who simply stay away. I don't go often myself.

I've seen businesses close, admittedly for a variety of reasons, but the owner of the art gallery that was once in the "street" section told me he moved out because of stealing and because his customers were intimidated by the thugs. That's why he's now on Central Avenue.

I would love to see a Whole Foods - and everything it would eventually draw - come to The Blvd. If nothing else, it would increase property values in the area and spur transit-oriented development in an area that is primed for it. But first, they have to make the troublemakers know they aren't welcome.

by ceefer66 on Jan 24, 2012 4:19 pm • linkreport

"I wonder how many people make snap judgments about places like Largo without ever having been there?"

That's simple. As easy as people make snap judgments about places EOTR w/o ever having been there..or about white people w/o ever befriending one....or a muslim..christian..black folk etc.

by HogWash on Jan 24, 2012 4:53 pm • linkreport

UPDATE: I had a very pleasant (albeit somewhat disappointing) conversation earlier today with Marc Katz of H&R Retail, Whole Foods’ master broker for Maryland. He explained that in Whole Foods’ view, there were a couple of concerns with the old Borders Books space at the Boulevard at Capital Centre. First and foremost, he said, the presence of Wegmans at nearby Woodmore Town Center “takes a big bite of the supermarket dollars in the surrounding zip codes,” which includes the Boulevard. While the area does meet the minimum demographic thresholds, he’s concerned that it may not be dense enough to support both Wegmans and Whole Foods.

Katz’s second concern was a bit more curious. He said the old Borders location didn’t have enough exclusive parking in front of the store and wasn’t visible enough from the street. Really?! Looking back that aerial photo of the Boulevard, and particularly the location around the old Borders, it’s hard to imagine how much more parking or visibility a grocery store of that size would need or expect to get.

Katz seemed to be skeptical of the idea that grocery stores in suburban Maryland would attract high numbers of walkers and transit riders who will buy significant amounts of groceries; thus, the presence of the Largo Town Center Metro Station adjacent to the Boulevard didn’t appear to weigh heavily in his calculus.

At the present time, Katz said, Whole Foods believes Riverdale Park is the only viable option to locate one of its stores in Prince George’s County. They’re committed to that project–and only that project¬–in the county, at least for the time being. If the Riverdale Park location is delayed because of litigation over the rezoning of the Cafritz property site, he suspects Prince George’s won’t see a Whole Foods in the county for quite some time.

by Bradley Heard on Jan 24, 2012 6:46 pm • linkreport

Ahhh... Whole Paycheck.
Anyone else find the courting of this grocer somewhat bizarre?
From a community standpoint, it sounds like The Boulevard has become a teenager hangout more than some other centers (all vibrant village commercial districts attract teens, it just sounds like this one disproportionately so), and perhaps the local community needs to address this in a constructive way with the landlord first, then vacant spaces will fill up, and then the citizenry can be more picky about exactly what grocery store fills up the space.

I like the service at Harris Teeter and Safeway more than Whole Paycheck anyway.

by stevek_fairfax on Jan 24, 2012 8:43 pm • linkreport

ahhh, who am I kidding? To each his own. Perhaps I am letting my anti-Whole Foods bias taint my opinion here. All my neighbors in PW County here want one too, so I'm probably in the minority.

by stevek_fairfax on Jan 24, 2012 8:49 pm • linkreport

"regarding the rezoning of the Cafritz Property in Riverdale Park, it will likely result in years of litigation before Whole Foods, or any other commercial retailer, can start developing there."

Last I heard both University Park and Riverdale Park councils approved the project. College Park voted against it, but the property only has 1/4 acre inside College Park limits. So, I'm not sure there's much College Park can do. The residents in Riverdale and University Park were involved with the project from the start and got a good amount of concessions from the developer. Of course they didn't get everything they wanted, but I think everyone involved can live with the outcome. Therefore, I'm not so sure there will be years of litigation - at least not from the city councils. There are just as many residences for the project as there are against. And with so much support, I'm sure the PG county planning board will approve in Feb.

Regarding Blvd at the Cap, I can see why WF didn't choose the area, like Mr. Katz said, it's just not dense enough. Most WF I've been to are in neighborhoods where the whole city or neighborhood can walk to it (highly walkable). You have to drive to the Bvld at the Cap. Of course you can walk to it from the Metro station, but who is going to carry groceries from WF all the way to the Metro station? Where will the walkers and bikers come from? In addition, you have Wegman's 5 minutes away with cheaper prices and momentum and familiarity with its current clientele. That's an uphill market share battle I think WF is not willing to fight.

by adelphi_sky on Jan 24, 2012 11:12 pm • linkreport

Um, the WF on Rockville Pike doesn't really fit in with *my* definition of "walkable," unless you happen to live right behind that plaza.

I dunno ... for years I've been saying, "If WF (or TJ's or whatever) doesn't want to invest in my county, then I don't want to give it my money." I guess the Cafritz-vs-Boulevard thing will be a test of how much WF really wants Prince George's dollars

by Greenbelt Gal on Jan 25, 2012 1:04 am • linkreport

@Greenbelt Gal - Um, Rockville around Whole Foods is very walkable. Have you not seen all of the high rise apartments along Rockville Pike as well as the huge apartment complex behind the shopping center where Whole Foods is located? Compare that to BLVD at the CAP. The original poster posted the picture. It's completely closed off by major roads. At least the people directly behind the Whole Foods in Rockville don't have to navigate across a four lane road.

by adelphi_sky on Jan 25, 2012 7:33 am • linkreport

Bradley -- re your conversation with the broker, that's how you begin to learn about how this stuff works, that's the decisions are made from the perspective and heuristics of the firm/broker, not what a community thinks it deserves. It's why retail revitalization is very difficult, especially because most places no longer have strong regional chains that are also part of the market.

E.g., I'd rather have a Giant-Eagle Market District store than a Whole Foods any day...

http://www.gourmetretailer.com/top-story-market_district_opens_in_pittsburgh-10358.html

But the point about Wegmans is true. No other upscale market is going to want to enter the same retail trade area that they're already dominant in, if the RTA isn't large enough to support 2 upscale stores.

by Richard Layman on Jan 25, 2012 9:07 am • linkreport

There just aren't enough hippies to sustain a Whole Foods in Largo.

by Frank on Jan 25, 2012 9:40 am • linkreport

@frank - You also hav to wonder if the Arts District had anything to do with the WF decision. Busboys and Poets and Yes! Organic choosing to locate a mile down the road would be compelling for a store like WF. Hyattsville has always had an eclectic and hippie feel to it. At least for the 15 years I've been in the area. With the addition of an all-natural pet store and Elevation Burger you now have the demographic WF is looking for which is why they said if they can't locate in Riverdale, that's it. Hyattsville and Riverdale are unique to the county in this regard.

by adelphi_sky on Jan 25, 2012 9:47 am • linkreport

@ stevek_fairfax: While I think WF would be nice at the Blvd, it's not the only grocer option. The Fresh Market would work just as well, and probably comes with much less false pretense. Trader Joe's would also work, but I think the space may be too large for the typical TJ's. I agree the mall needs to be vigilant about keeping the teens in line, but I think they've been doing that -- lately, at least.

@ adelphi_sky: The Cafritz lawsuits won't come from the municipalities. It'll be the angry neighbors on the west side of Route 1 that will keep this tied up for years. The planning board and county will likely approve the zoning change, and it'll probably eventually be upheld by the courts. But nothing will happen until that process is complete -- which could take 3 years or more.

Re: walability -- I agree, the Blvd needs to do a better job making that site more dense and walkable. In terms of land area, the Cap Centre site not unlike Downtown Silver Spring. And like the Georgia Ave / Colesville Road intersection that borders DSS, the Blvd is bordered by 2 major arterials (Arena Dr & Lottsford Rd). The difference is, DSS is much more walkable, and contains deck parking and multi-family housing, rather than mounds of bare asphalt. The Blvd needs to take a cue from its neighbor to the north.

@ Richard: Yes, the conversation with the broker was informative, and we in Prince George's need to have many more of them in order to be more effective advocates. That said, I don't think WF is really being honest when it says Riverdale is the only viable location in the county. That's ridiculous. They may be legitimately concerned about whether the Largo RTA can support both Wegmans and WF, but that's no excuse for them not to be considering anything else in Prince George's. Why not PG Plaza or West Hyattsville? Heck, even Bowie or Brandywine! (But I prefer transit-oriented sites.)

by Bradley Heard on Jan 25, 2012 12:56 pm • linkreport

@Bradley

It's not just Arena Drive that makes the site unwalkable. The beltway is impossible to cross as a pedestrian anywhere to the south of Arena Drive. Not that the walk is unpleasant, but literally impossible without walking on highway shoulders. You just cut off a huge potential pedestrian market there.

The design of the BLVD doesn't help much, either. The Metro station is poorly connected.

by Alex B. on Jan 25, 2012 1:08 pm • linkreport

@ Alex: There's no pedestrian market west of the Beltway in the vicinity of Arena Drive. There's no residentially zoned land anywhere around there. So the presence of the Beltway next to the Blvd doesn't pose a problem. All the developable parcels in the area around the Blvd and the Largo Town Center Metro station are east of the Beltway. You're correct that the Metro station is poorly connected to the Blvd, but it is connected -- and you can get to the station w/o crossing any arterials. The Silver Spring Metro station isn't connected to the Downtown Silver Spring development at all and requires traversing arterial roads, not to mention a rail gulch. Yet that development still works quite well.

by Bradley Heard on Jan 25, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

Bradley, you should be able to answer your own question from your point. Look at the array of stores in W. Hyattsville or PG Plaza, and then compare to the kinds of "adjacencies" in places where Whole Foods has stores. There's no comparison. And until you understand that, you won't be able to be an effective advocate for your position.

My joke about PG Plaza, back when H St. had retail on it, is that it is an upscale enclosed H St. commercial district.

http://www.danth.com/business-recruitment-book/

One of the things you could think about is creating your own innovative approaches. While I think it might fail for the same reason that Whole Foods doesn't want to compete with Wegmans, you could take that space and create the equivalent of the "Belvedere Square" that is on York Road in Baltimore.

It's an upscale public market type operation that is privately run, where all the "stalls" are high end.

The cool thing about the concept is that instead of having to find one operator to create the business, you do it with 10 different operators, and therefore can support small business development.

by Richard Layman on Jan 25, 2012 1:31 pm • linkreport

forgot the link: http://www.belvederesquare.com/

by Richard Layman on Jan 25, 2012 1:32 pm • linkreport

@Bradley

Hold up now. The walk from the Silver Spring Metro to that Whole Foods and from Largo Town Center Metro to your proposed Whole Foods may be the same length, but they're very different experiences.

In Largo, you're walking across a parking lot and what is (for now) an outdoor, single-story shopping center with several vacancies. There isn't much to look at and there aren't a lot of people around. In Silver Spring, you're walking across a couple of big streets (that could be more ped-friendly, I agree) but along sidewalks, past shops and apartments and offices, and through the whole Ellsworth Drive area, which is a pretty successful shopping street, if I say so myself. There's a mix of uses and activities, ample landscaping, and tons of people.

The issue isn't just distance from the Metro. It's what that pedestrian experience is like. And that can make or break any retail venture, even ones where customers are assumed to come by car.

by dan reed! on Jan 25, 2012 1:35 pm • linkreport

@Bradley

Silver Spring has a street grid. It's development pattern is fundamentally urban.

Largo has no street grid, it has typical suburban pod development. The intersection density of the network there is substantially lower than Silver Spring. I'd also suspect the surrounding densities are substantially lower in Largo, too - residential density, employment density, etc.

Point being, there are some structural issues at play here beyond any social or economic concerns.

by Alex B. on Jan 25, 2012 1:37 pm • linkreport

@RLayman, I believe Brad gave four "alternative" locations to dispute the notion that Riverdale is the "only" possible location for the entire county. Not that they were perfect locations but Bowie nor Brandywine are bad spots. Even WHyattsvile is worth mentioning.

As a practical matter, I would never travel to Riverdale just to go Whole Foods when Wegman's is much better.

@Alex, where are the people you think would cross the beltway actually going to be coming from? It's nothing around it.

BTW, I would love for PGC to get it's first TJ's.

by HogWash on Jan 25, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

It's great to see that Whole Foods is considering moving to Prince George's County, especially a stone's throw from where I spent the first 11 years of my life in Mitchelville.

As soon as I saw Blvd at the Cap Ctre, the first thought that came to mind is teenage crime, something the commerical development is notorious for which has been the major (only) disadvantage of the location. There's definitely plenty of spending power in the Largo/Mitchellville area, and the extreme success of Wegman's/Best Buy down the street is a testament to that. Unfortunately, the area is also 5 min from some not-as-nice neighborhoods across the Beltway (Cheverly, Landover) which have some criminal elements more than willing to make the short trip up MD202.

I'm really glad to see the landowners have made serious efforts to tackle the problem though, and have managed to attract HH Gregg and Whole Foods, which to me is a fantastic acomplishment, especially in this economy.

A few years ago I was ready to write the Blvd off as a failure. Nice to see they've started to turn it around. Prince George's County has far, far more transit resources than any other county in the Metro area (4 Metro branches, 2 MARC lines, Amtrak Northeast Corridor, BWI 20 min away) it's a shame that more hasn't been done with them.

I'm definitely looking forward to the "ultimate" transit development at New Carrollton which will be one of the best (if not *the* best) in the nation if all goes according to design: light rail-Purple Line, heavy rail-Metro, commuter rail-MARC, high speed intercity-Amtrak NEC, MD-50/I-595, I-495/I-595, BW Parkway, and acre upon acre of high density residential and commercial development all in one location! This needs to be the highest priority development in the state.

by King Terrapin on Jan 25, 2012 3:00 pm • linkreport

@ Alex and Dan: I agree with you that Downtown Silver Spring is much better developed and denser than the Boulevard. I was only responding to Alex's comment about the Beltway being a limitation to the Boulevard's success. I said earlier that the Boulevard should take a cue from DSS. There are ways to densify and urbanize the Boulevard to make it more walkable, mixed-use, and transit-oriented. You can add multi-family housing and deck parking, for example. The site itself is actually quite walkable and conducive to street gridding and ped paths if you look at it. In addition, the areas to the east of the Boulevard (on either side of Arena Dr, before Lottsford Rd) are vacant and planned for mixed-use developments (primarily office, but could also be residential). Same for the area east of the Metro, to Lottsford Rd, along Grand Blvd.

And that's really the point. You can't have that kind of transit-oriented development at Woodmore Town Center or Riverdale Park, because they're not close enough to Metro stations. Nor should the county encourage (through zoning changes or anything else) high-density development of a residentially zoned greenfield like the Cafritz property in Riverdale Park when the county has 15 Metro stations that need to be developed in that manner. As I've said before, it's about being disciplined in your land use planning and decision-making.

@ Hogwash: Yes, you're exactly right about why I was mentioning the 4 alternative locations. WF isn't even thinking hard (or apparently at all) about other locations in this county.

@ Richard: I like the Belvedere public market idea -- perhaps for one of the other (smaller) spaces that need to be filled at the Boulevard, but not for the Borders site. You need a "big draw" anchor to fill that 22,000 SF space. If a grocer isn't it, we should find another suitable use.

by Bradley Heard on Jan 25, 2012 3:13 pm • linkreport

@Bradley

You can grid the site all you want. The site only matters to a degree. The surrounding context matters tremendously - allowing people to walk within a site is one thing, but if people can't walk to and from the site from surrounding parcels, then the overall potential is limited.

It's a compounding thing. Silver Spring works not just because the Downtown is walkable, but because all of the surrounding neighborhoods are walkable as well, and they connect reasonably well for pedestrians.

Also, the railroad tracks aren't nearly the barrier in SS as the Beltway is in Largo.

by Alex B. on Jan 25, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

@ Alex: You're missing the point, I think. Yes, context matters. The relevant context for TOD purposes is the half-mile area around the Metro station. The Beltway is more than a half-mile away from the Metro. Indeed, the edge of the Boulevard at Capital Centre site is exactly 0.5 miles walking distance from the Metro. So, again, the Beltway is irrelevant to the walkability question. If you add the mix of uses (i.e., housing) to the already-grid-ready layout of the Boulevard site, you've taken care of the entire ped shed in that direction from the Largo Town Center Metro. Everywhere else within the ped shed of that Metro station is or can easily be made as walkable as downtown Silver Spring. There just needs to be the political will to do it -- and that means not focusing high-density mixed-use development more than a half-mile form a Metrorail station.

by Bradley Heard on Jan 25, 2012 3:59 pm • linkreport

Bradley, I don't mean to harp on it, but the contexts for the two sites are completely different. Even if you made the BLVD site into a nice grid with mixed use development, that wouldn't change the fact that it would still be extremely difficult to walk from one of the surrounding pods to the BLVD site.

Walkability isn't just a measure that matters within that 1/2 mile circle.

I agree, the area can and should be a focus for development. The walkability can be improved. But the reality is that the physical condition of Largo and environs shares more in common with Tysons Corner than it does with Downtown Silver Spring. A place like Silver Spring, that already had a grid of streets to grow around, just needed some development to fill in the gaps. A place like Tysons, or like Largo, or New Carrollton, however needs the full retrofitting suburbia treatment. It's a much more challenging proposition.

Likewise, Metro isn't the be-all and end-all of transit. The Riverdale Park project is a perfectly reasonable infill development site.

by Alex B. on Jan 25, 2012 4:19 pm • linkreport

Belevedere Square is an anchor. Just a nontraditional one. And couldn't compete with a supermarket in the same center.

What you have to figure out are alternatives, if your first course of action isn't likely to work.

Which it isn't, based on the WF response to your initial query, which would likely be the same (but double) from Fresh Market or Trader Joes.

So what's your next alternative? How do you rebuild this center physically maybe but definitely in terms of the retail mix to make it effective and attractive?

The area isn't what you think it is, at least from the perspective of retailers, which I why I listed the Milder recruitment handbook as a cite. It's pretty direct about positioning.

FWIW, for all that you read about H St. today, the first business that went on the corridor after the H St. revival plan was Family Dollar.

National Wholesale Liquidators replaced Hechingers. And Aldi went in next to Hechinger Mall.

And that's in an area with comparable/better demographics than your Cap Centre location. (Not as accessible to the automobile audience though.)

Repositioning is incremental.

Except for the Penn-Liberty district in PGH (which I argue occurred not because of Penn-Liberty but because of the lack of developable land in the adjacent Squirrel Hill and Shadyside high end retail districts) you can't make that jump overnight.

by Richard Layman on Jan 26, 2012 1:16 pm • linkreport

Oh, and while you or I might think that 8th and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, across from Eastern Market and at the heart of Capitol Hill is a high end market, from the standpoint of Starbucks was a poor inner city neighborhood that required joint venture participation with Magic Johnson's business group to open a store...

by Richard Layman on Jan 26, 2012 1:18 pm • linkreport

@ Richard: Apparently, the first hurdle is that the BLVD still has a perception problem that it needs to work on, despite the increased security and police presence. That requires an old-fashioned PR campaign from the property managers -- perhaps a mea culpa open letter to the community, followed by invitations to come experience the "new, family-friendly" BLVD. The County Council and Revenue Authority reps can help in this regard, as well.

A related hurdle is filling back up those vacancies with a better mix of tenants, now that the economy is improving. Some choices are obvious for the smaller non-anchor venues (Starbucks, Chipotle or Baja Fresh, FedEx Office or UPS Store, PetSmart, etc.) Others, like what to put in the Borders space, will take a little more work. If a high-end grocer won't work (and I'm still not convinced it wouldn't), maybe they should try to land a home store like Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, or Williams-Sonoma -- something tht will give a reason for all those affluent Mitchellville, Cheverly, and Upper Marlboro house and condo owners (not to mention the condo owners right there at Largo Town Center itself) reaons to come to the Blvd.

Longer term, they need to put more housing units right there at the site, and make the site relate better to the Metro station. The additional residences will be a ready-made audience for the BLVD shops.

by Bradley Heard on Jan 26, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

The point is that it is both the shopping center specifically and the area generally. The fact that it has gone through 2 iterations means a lot of companies think it's damaged. I don't know who runs it. That impacts the ability of the place to get "good tenants" too. The area generally is the same issue that most of DC has. And PG is not DC... that was the point I was making.

By adding housing yes that will change the center. It will take a long time before it's economically viable for that to happen, without incentive funding. Although from the standpoint of PG County, I'd make sense, especially if better connections to the Metro are prioritized. (I am reading _Principles of Urban Retail_ right now--it's actually a big disappointment for me, I'll write a negative review when I get around to it, but it does make clear how difficult it is to get developers to consider mixed use/adding apartments to shopping center developments except in the best of circumstances.)

And, why not move the County Hall from Upper Marlboro to Largo "Town Center".

I argue that if PG truly wants to reposition around TOD and transit generally, it should make a statement itself by locating its main government buildings in Metro accessible places, not in places that are impossible to reach by efficient transit (e.g., Upper Marlboro or the PG MNCPPC building on Kenilworth).

Have you read the ULI ten tips reports on improving retail/place in suburban settings, plus the report on rethinking the mall? I highly recommend it before you make too many more calls...

by Richard Layman on Jan 26, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

This has turned into an interesting discussion. One minor consideration: WF has lots of non-walkable locations in other metros: Atlanta, Cleveland, and Austin come to mind and they haven't necessarily started in the most affluent markets....Their original Atlanta store is in an area that isn't terribly affluent, although not far from more well-off areas. That store is not far from a Target, but otherwise has pretty unimpressive neighbors. They eventually took over an unopened Harris-Teeter site that was closer to walkable well-off areas. But the point is, they aren't married P St or Friendship Heights type locations and they seem quite willing to skip over places that seem natural for their model.

I work near WF on Rockville Pike and the area is walkable more in theory than practice. No one seems to walk there even though there are high rises and lots of work places nearby. I suspect that their old location at Congressional Plaza had more walking trade because of the low rises and older folks nearby. The original location for that area was almost across the street and even less pedestrian friendly. The SS Whole Foods is too far from metro (I never see WF bags being lugged there) and seems dependent on a drive-in trade.

by Rich on Jan 26, 2012 11:15 pm • linkreport

The issue isn't walkable or unwalkable, it's where Whole Foods wants to locate stores. They like locations with lots of high income consumers with high discretionary income and a propensity to buy high end food. Some of those locations are in suburbs, some are in urban areas.

As a chain, Whole Foods was an earlier entrant into urban markets, compared to other chains. Part of this was due to the fact that WF is an amalgam of smaller chains acquired by Whole Foods, and some of those chains, like Fresh Fields, which started in DC, were focused on serving urban locations.

That is a completely different issue than whether or not Blvd. at Cap Centre is walkable now or could be or is transit accessible or not.

And that is a completely different issue from whether or not the Largo area has the demographic umph that Whole Foods is looking for when opening stores.

As an amalgamated company, they aren't quite as aggressive about outlier locations as some of the individual companies had been.

by Richard Layman on Jan 27, 2012 8:53 am • linkreport

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