HYATTSVILLE, Md. – When Mike Franklin moved to Hyattsville from Capitol Heights in 1987, he said he found a “cool little town” that was missing one important amenity. A reputation.
Franklin, a toy distributor, has been working to add that missing ingredient. Four years ago he and his wife, Debbie, bought a 100-year-old building on Route 1 and began transforming what had been a hardware store into Franklin’s, a general store that sells food, beer, wine and toys and serves sit-down meals in back. “We have to be a quirky landmark. If we’re run-of-the-mill, we’d be dead,” said Mike Franklin, 38.
But evening business has been anything but booming, and Mrs. Franklin said the family store has yet to turn a profit. One problem, she said, has been a lack of off-street parking.
The Franklins are hoping the efforts of a municipal partnership, founded in 1990 to upgrade the Route 1 commercial corridor, will aid their fledgling business.
With help from the Route 1 Partnership, the Franklins plan to seek state economic development money to expand their business, possibly adding a jazz club, microbrewery or pizzeria, said Mrs. Franklin, 39. “If you have something to offer, people will come,” she said.
Maybe, she said, they’ll even persuade municipal officials to create more parking.
The Franklins support efforts by members of the alliance – College Park, University Park, Riverdale, Hyattsville, North Brentwood, Brentwood and Mount Rainier – to upgrade the state highway, revitalize downtown shopping areas and draw new businesses to the commercial corridor.
While the towns and cities have banded together, they also are working separately on various plans that could bring significant changes to the seven-mile stretch of Route 1 extending from the District line to the Capital Beltway north of College Park.
“In a united way, we’re taking care of the most critical main street in our towns because it’s so deteriorated,” said Riverdale Mayor Ann Ferguson.
Members drew up a plan in 1992 that targets transportation and commercial revitalization as chief concerns, said Don Spicer, who was hired last summer as the group’s economic development coordinator.
The state has already taken some steps to upgrade the transportation network. The Maryland Mass Transit Administration is studying the feasibility of building a commuter train station in Hyattsville, said Anthony Brown, an administration spokesman. The agency also expects this month to complete a study of plans for a trolley line.
Possible terminal points for the trolley line would be in Bladensburg, Mount Rainier or College Park, said Roylene Roberts, Brentwood’s town administrator.
The state this summer completed construction of a $200,000 Maryland Rail Commuter train station in the center of Riverdale. Shortly after, it freed up $100,000 to improve commuter access to the station, a replica of its predecessor that dated to the 19th century.
College Park officials are recommending that state transportation officials rebuild Route 1 from the University of Maryland north to the Beltway. City officials have proposed constructing a median, removing center turn lanes and adding landscaping and sidewalks, said Terry Schum, the city planning director.
Such a project would require purchase of rights-of-way and relocation of utilities, said Valerie Burnette Edgar, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration. The city’s proposal “would take years of planning and development,” she said.
The SHA has instead completed smaller, less costly projects in College Park, such as resurfacing and widening Route 1 where possible, Edgar said.
In addition, the Route 1 alliance would like to see hiker- biker trails and safety improvements to the highway.
Mrs. Franklin said she’d welcome safety improvements.
A child was recently hit by a car near the general store, she said. In addition, two cars “ended up on our sidewalk” in separate accidents, she said.
Perhaps the most difficult projects involve revitalization. Efforts are “dragging very slowly,” Spicer said.
An example has been the effort between Hyattsville officials and the Lustine automobile dealership to redevelop its property on Route 1. Eventual plans call for a shopping center that would include a supermarket, a business noted for its absence in the area.
“If we had to give a list of 10 things the residents of Hyattsville want, that would top the list,” Hyattsville city administrator Marge Wolf said. She added that the need for such a basic amenity prodded officials to plan a shopping center.
But plans are moving slowly, Wolf said. “We’re not going to cut a ribbon soon,” she said. -30-