Ritchie Station Marketplace shows signs of life; BJ's opens with little fanfare
Capitol Heights shopping center features wholesale store
A few miles north on Capital Beltway, the Woodmore Towne Center has opened to great fanfare, including stories in most regional media about the second Wegmans in Maryland opening in Prince George's County.
But south to Exit 13 another major retail center opened last month, mostly to whispers. And repeated attempts to get officials and the developer to comment on it over two weeks have not succeeded.
A BJ's Wholesale Club is the first retail outlet to open in the Ritchie Station Marketplace, a 116.5-acre mixed-use retail project located at Capitol Beltway Exit 13 for Capitol Heights and Upper Marlboro. A Prince George's County Economic Development Corp. website fact sheet lists the development at $200 million.
The property owner is Ritchie Hill LLC, which is under Lanham-based developer NAI The Michael Companies. Repeated requests for information from NAI and Maria Fruci, an assistant public relations representative for BJ's Wholesale Club, were unsuccessful. Robert Spencer, store manager for the Capitol Heights BJ's Wholesale Club, did not return calls by press time.
Jim Estepp, CEO of the Greater Prince George's Business Roundtable, said he did not know of any particular reason why The Michael Companies had not been as responsive and said it is possible that they're just not ready to make any public announcements about the rest of the center yet.
"Obviously we're coming out of a recession and any of our shopping complexes that were planned several years ago, obviously things moved slower," Estepp said.
In a Dec. 2 e-mail to The Gazette, outgoing County Councilman Samuel H. Dean (D-Dist. 8) of Mitchellville suggested contacting The Michael Companies for more information.
"It is my understanding that there was a soft' opening when BJs [Wholesale Club] opened which usually means there will be a larger event when more stores come in," Dean wrote.
The BJ's Wholesale Club opened Nov. 6 and is open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays, according to the BJ's Wholesale website. The opening came two weeks after the opening of another wholesale store, Costco, in the Woodmore Towne Centre at Glenarden.
A plan for a proposed Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant will be under review and a McDonald's restaurant is in pre-application phase, which means it has not made it to staff reviewer Ruth Grover's shelf yet, she said.
The BJ's Wholesale Club has a special exception application in for a gas station that will not be up for Prince George's County Planning Board review until February 2011, said Tom Lockard, a Park and Planning staff reviewer.
The Pohanka Hyundai dealership will be relocating from its Marlow Heights location to Ritchie Station, according to the Pohanka website. A Pohanka Honda Hyundai car dealership received Prince George's County Planning Board approval but it is unknown when it will come up for District Council review, Lockard said. The County Council sits as the District Council on land use and zoning issues.
"The car dealership is a big deal," Estepp said of Pohanka. "It's one of the largest automotive dealerships in the region."
Calls to Pohanka were not returned by press time.
Estepp said he is excited that the county is getting additional retail opportunities including the Wegmans at the Woodmore Towne Centre at Glenarden. He said the Ritchie Station development is modeled after the Vista Gardens Marketplace shopping center on Martin Luther King Jr. Highway in Lanham.
"It's one that we think holds a lot of promise, particularly for its location and its proximity to Andrews Air Force Base," Estepp said. "You have to remember with nearly 30,000 people doing business on that base every day, including those who live there, it's like a small city. This will be the closet modern shopping center to that base."
A preliminary plan for 1 million square feet of retail space for Ritchie Station was approved by the Prince George's County Planning Board in May 2005, according to Park and Planning documents. The development was initially going to include a Sam's Club but was revised in September 2009 to include a BJ's Wholesale Club instead, documents state.
Prince George's Planning Board Member Sylvester Vaughns, a Palmer Park resident, acknowledges that marketing can be difficult for developers if retail outlets that consider doing business decide to pull out. He also said one dividing factor is that there is single-family and condominium housing planned for the Woodmore site, while Ritchie Station is surrounded by a commercial area.
But Vaugnhs said the business owners have a major responsibility for promoting what they sell.
"I get this mailing that Wegmans sends out and [from] Costco," Vaughns said of postal mail he received promoting their stores. "They do it themselves. I don't know if I've gotten anything from BJ's, and I'm in the immediate neighborhood."
Capitol Heights Mayor Kito James said the development is a "great addition to greater Capitol Heights" because residents will have access to quality retail at a short distance. The development is located in unincorporated Capitol Heights, five miles away from the town limits.
"It is important we continue to build on the momentum created by the [Ritchie Station] Marketplace development and other such developments," James said.