By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO,

Despite retail manufacturers making their products available to consumers online, which is leading to the demise of department stores around the country, nearly $2 million of funding is now being made available for improvements to shopping centers and strip malls throughout Prince George’s County.  

The facelift for these commercial properties will commence thanks to slightly more than $1.9 million which are available through the Commercial Property Improvement Program (CPIP).  Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced the first of the initiatives that will benefit southern County residents in Clinton, who feel they have been left behind when it comes to the proliferation of established retailers and restaurants who are setting up shop in the most affluent Black county in the United States.

Community strip malls in Prince George’s County are getting a facelift after a Commercial Property Improvement Program (Courtesy Photo)

Alsobrooks made the announcement at The Landing at Woodyard Clinton on May 30.  However, eight other community based commerce centers are undergoing similar makeovers that are restoring vacant properties and transforming them into attractive investment opportunities for developers.

“It is our goal to improve the retail diversity and quality, while also improving safety and façade,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said. “We have no doubt our business community, our residents and our economy will greatly benefit.”

The Landing at Woodyard is one of five shopping centers awarded the maximum amount of $350,000 from CPIP grant.  That property features a vacant building that was once was a home for a Giant food supermarket and is now being converted into a Marshalls department store. It is also expected to add a new ALDI food store, and a Chik-fil-A restaurant.

A little farther north, another beneficiary of the grant is The Shops at Iverson.  Formerly known as Iverson Mall, the property was acquired by the Westend Capital Group in 2018. The company which had already started filling empty space on site, has invigorated that community at the top of Branch Avenue by remaking itself as more than just a conventional shopping center.  It has become a “mixed use” mall featuring everything from casual dining establishments to office space.

“This program has allowed us to recreate Iverson Mall as a hub in this community,” James F. Barter, Jr., managing partner of the Westend Capital Group, told the .  “The initiative allows retail landlords a chance to reinvest in the property and attract new tenants. Retail space has lots of room for investments to make our properties more attractive to the public.”

In addition to its cosmetic changes which brought new foot traffic to the mall, Westend Capital had already begun its remake by blending a group of national chain restaurants with local small businesses who need office space as well after addressing safety concerns with better lighting and more security.

They started by attracting a diversified group of new restaurants including Chipotle, Wingstop, Quickway Hibachi, Tropical Cafe, and Hook and Reel seafood.  However, the community office space concept has led to tenants that now include Maryland Healthcare Clinics and counseling services too. According to Barter, the Capital Food Bank also distributes food to families in need each month.  

“The cool factor of tenants has improved our foot traffic and there’s been a snowball effect,” said Barter.  “We’ve been to combine national chains with local small businesses who share the same vision.”

To qualify for the program the property owners must be able to start the transformation process and bring improvements on no longer than 90 days after approval of the CPIP grant awards. Owners can receive between $50,000 to $350,000 for their projects and match the grant funds to receive their reimbursement.