Monday, October 5, 2009

Penn Branch Shopping Center: Who has a vision for it?

On September 30, 2009, the principal owners of the Penn Branch Shopping Center (PBSC), Stylianos Christofides, David Stern of ICG Properties, LLC,, and the architect and broker that represent ICG Properties, Lee Quill and Tom Papadopoulos, presented their vision for the PBSC during a community meeting within the Center, in the former HEW Federal Credit Union site. While seating was set up for 60 people in the small converted office, an overflow crowd of community residents came to hear the plans for a major multi-phase redevelopment for the Center, including the first phase which will revitalize the street level façade that faces Pennsylvania Ave., SE. Residents also came to ask pointed questions and express their frustrations with what has been up to this writing, decades of underdevelopment and beneign neglect at that site.

Over the years, the Penn Branch Shopping Center has deteriorated into a eyesore, with an unsightly façade, incongruent signage, poor parking patterns, and with uninvitingly broken elevators and escalators that force patrons to walk around the facility to gain access to various municipal offices situated in the back lower section. The owners have described the front parking lot, on their webpage as “pavement that feels like it was laid over tree stumps.”[1] Also, it lacks many of the services, including restaurants that many folks within minutes of the Center would like to see.

So, when the owners offered prepared notes about the up coming redevelopment, they were confronted by a moderately aggressive crowd, with a chorus of questions that in some cases exposed frustrations born from many years of promises that were either unmet or limited. One can only assume or imagine what would have happened if the three city council members (Chairman Vincent Gray, Economic Development Chairman Kwame Brown, and Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander) from East of the River had not been in attendance.

So, what would you like to see added to the lineup of businesses at PBSC? You may not know that:

Penn Branch rarely has a retail vacancy and developers at ICG say they can see why. Pennsylvania Avenue carries 30,000 cars past the shopping center per day and nearby Branch Avenue another 18,000. The location is smack amongst some of the most upper-scale D.C. neighborhoods east of the river, with average incomes within the nearest mile over $60,000. And with plans to redevelop nearby Skyland Shopping Center stuck in legal tangles, Penn Branch could serve as a needed dam against the hundreds of millions of dollars in retail sales the city loses over the state line to Prince George’s County every year.” Also: “Rated one of Washingtonian magazine's ‘Best Places to Live,’ Hillcrest is an attractive urban neighborhood with an average household income of more than $75,000 in the area within a quarter-mile radius of the center. Current tenants include Wachovia Bank, CVS Pharmacy, and several District of Columbia government agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles.”

So, with its great potential, anchor businesses nailed down with long term commitments (CVS is planning an enlargement of its footprint), 48,000 cars moving through the confluence of Pennsylvania and Branch Avenues everyday, why are they having trouble attracting prime vendors, besides Ledo Pizza and Dunkin Donuts? What is the basis for their choices? Are they predisposed and/or committed to vendors and business that really don’t fit our community or will ultimately degrade our community? And who is Tom Papadopoulos?

We really do need to stop and consider why we now travel out of our community to spend dollars that should circulate in our community. Thus, in that vein, ICG and their crew should honestly consider what we believe will be important additions to the shopping center. Because if we have businesses that are close in, with services and products that we would otherwise have to go elsewhere to purchase, by car, bus or Metro, then dollars would remain in our communities, and by extension, in the pockets of the developers. By the way, have you been to Best Buns in Shirlington, Virginia next to the fabulous Carlyle Grand Restaurant or how about the meat, poultry, and fruit vendors in Eastern Market?

[1] - Penn Branch Property

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