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Retail spaces "too big" or College Park population too small?

One of the main arguments for more student housing in downtown College Park is that there simply aren't enough people in the area to support all of the stores, bars and restaurants in the area. College Park's three-block business district is a revolving door of store closings, where new retail options open with great fanfare and close within a few months.

Photo by thecourtyard on Flickr.

It's therefore not surprising to hear what Mark Srour, who owns local bar Cornerstone Grill and Loft, told the Diamondback about what some bars do to survive:

Here we are today; the building's sitting stagnant. A great clothing store like Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, Old Navy—somebody like that would be a great fit for that building," Srour said. "It's just too big of a place to have a bar because, unfortunately, you have to let all the underage people in just to survive. That's why that building is kind of cursed, I guess. It's just too big.

He's talking about Thirsty Turtle, which lost its liquor license last month due to a stabbing and a reputation for serving underage customers. As I wrote last month, Turtle and other bars in College Park need people within walking distance to get business. When the majority of those people are under 21, you're not going to discriminate.

Of course, even if the building that once housed Thirsty Turtle was turned into an Urban Outfitters or another clothing store, it might still have a difficult time staying open. There just aren't enough people living in downtown College Park to make it work, and the area isn't enough of a destination to draw shoppers who'd arrive by car. You need more people to justify the retail, and more retail to make the area a destination.

Having more stuff to do is a goal I'm sure everyone in College Park supports, whether you're a student, a permanent resident, on the University administration or the City Council. Unfortunately, they may not all agree that more student housing is the first step to getting there.

Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 


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Not to mention that most businesses need customers in summer when school's out, too.

The solution is obvious. College Park needs to codify its de-facto policy of allowing underage drinking. Since you can actually work as a serve liquor in PG when you're under 21, it's practically the rule. Kinda hard to take them seriously when your bartender is often underage.

Anyway, just make this unwritten policy into law, close down the roads at night so you have to metro there -- I believe they have already experimented with this on campus.

College Park will become the ultimate party destination in the area! It'll be like our very own Atlantic City.

by Jamie on Nov 30, 2010 2:06 pm • linkreport

One obvious disadvantage that downtown College Park has (and that most strip malls don't) is that you have to pay to park Monday through Saturday. People who aren't already living in College Park don't like stuffing a couple of bucks into a meter to shop and have dinner, all the while worrying that they're going to get a parking ticket.

What's that, you suggested -- take transit? WMATA is sooooo helpfully taking away the bus route that goes between my neighborhood and the UMD campus. After Dec. 20, Greenbelters will have to go to the Metro station and wait in the freezing cold for a second bus in order to get to downtown College Park without paying for parking. {end sarcasm}

by Greenbelt Gal on Nov 30, 2010 4:20 pm • linkreport

I can think of two businesses that could stay open; many people would hate the idea of moving them in there.

McDonald's and KFC

If the majority of the likely clients are a certain demographic than you should cater to there needs and a bar is not the business to have with a place that has many minors and people adults under 21.

Something that the students need or want (fast food, entertainment, maybe a Pharmacy type store)and the people who reside around there also use (anything except a college bookstore and something that is not provided by one of the nearby businesses) is whatever should go there.

by kk on Nov 30, 2010 4:39 pm • linkreport

In addition to more student housing, how about more housing in general? I thought this blog (perhaps a different person) has complained in the past about PG County not building enough TOD around its Metro stations, why not College Park too?

by grumpy on Nov 30, 2010 9:14 pm • linkreport

Having moved from Lyon Park to College Park a little under a year ago (job-related), the difference is night and day. In Arlington I was walking distance to Clarendon and Courthouse and all in between, and it was easy to get people in from other locations by either car or Metro. It's a destination. I'm also walking distance to the main strip in College Park, and while I'll walk over for basic things - a couple sodas at CVS, a haircut, chinese pickup - it's not a place to hang out. The few bars there don't appeal, not being in college anymore, and the strip lacks critical mass to make it a draw for people beyond UMD students who need cheap beer or fast food.

The lack of density at the College Park metro stations always surprises me. Yes, above ground station, and the railroad tracks, create more of a barrier than you have in Clarendon or Bethesda, but it still seems like a prime spot for transit oriented development. I've never understood why this didn't happen. My sense has been that Prince George's failed to take the initiative and make it happen, so it didn't. Is there more to the story? And more importantly, what needs to happen to push it?

by Distantantennas on Dec 2, 2010 1:30 am • linkreport

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