Photo from Google Earth.

Recently, there has been quite a bit of hoopla among northern Prince George’s County residents over whether the Cafritz Property, a single-family residential-zoned tract in Riverdale Park, is an appropriate transit-oriented place to locate the county’s first Whole Foods Market.

Meanwhile, in central Prince George’s, at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo, there sits a large, recently-vacated anchor tenant space, formerly occupied by Borders Books, where the iconic organic grocer could locate and be open for business within a matter of months.

The Boulevard is an open-air, Main Street-style shopping center with 485,000 square feet of retail space. It was built in 2003 on the site of the former Capital Centre sports arena, which was (until 1997) the home arena for the Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, and the Georgetown University Men’s Basketball team.

It is located just off of the Capital Beltway at Arena Drive—steps away from the Largo Town Center Metro Station on the Blue Line, and approximately one mile away from FedEx Field.

Boulevard at the Capital Centre. Image from Google Earth.

Borders Books was one of the Boulevard’s original anchor tenants. However, in 2011, Borders shut its doors as part of the company’s bankruptcy and eventual nationwide liquidation. The space, pictured below, has been vacant ever since.

Former Borders Books at the Blvd at Cap Centre. Image from Google Earth.

Based on the guidelines established by Whole Foods for consideration of new retail locations, the old Borders space at the Boulevard is an ideal site. This is what the retailer says it is looking for:

  • 200,000 people or more in a 20-minute drive time
  • 25,000-50,000 square feet
  • Large number of college-educated residents
  • Abundant parking available for our exclusive use
  • Stand alone preferred, would consider complementary
  • Easy access from roadways, lighted intersection
  • Excellent visibility, directly off of the street
  • Must be located in a high traffic area (foot and/or vehicle)

Let’s see how the old Borders space matches up. In terms of demographics, more than 252,000 people live within a five-mile radius—well within a 20-minute drive. In addition, all Blue Line Metrorail stations from Capitol South eastward to Largo Town Center are within a 20-minute ride of the Boulevard (and within a 20-25 minute drive on a good day). This dramatically increases the population count within the target area of this retail space.

The average household income in the immediate three-mile radius is $80,600, and more than 64% of the adult population within a one-mile radius of the Boulevard has either attended or graduated from college. Taking into account the entire area within a 20-minute drive or Metro ride of the Boulevard, including the affluent and highly-educated Capitol Hill neighborhood, the household income and educational attainment levels increase significantly.

The old Borders space is also very well situated, meeting all of Whole Foods’ desired site location criteria. It is clearly visible from Arena Drive, just off of a lighted intersection. There are multiple signalized vehicle access points to the Boulevard—two from Arena Drive at the north end, and one from Harry S. Truman Drive at the south end. In addition, there is a lighted pedestrian path (near Truman Drive) that provides direct access to the Boulevard from the Largo Town Center Metro station.

Finally, there is ample parking directly in front of the store space that would be available for the near-exclusive use of Whole Foods customers. Simply put, in terms of foot and vehicle traffic, visibility, and parking availability, few locations in Prince George’s County can match it.

Aside from the necessary construction to convert the old Borders space from a bookstore into an upscale specialty grocery store, Whole Foods would need to do very little work to get the store up and running. At 22,915 square feet, this one-story stand-alone space is currently slightly smaller than the Whole Foods stated minimum goal of 25,000 square feet. However, as you can see from the above picture, the space was built with a faux second floor, complete with ample window lighting.

Although I am not an architect or structural engineer, it seems that it should be feasible to add the necessary floor and ceiling to convert this space into two actual stories—in which case, there would be nearly 44,000 square feet of usable space. If not, the existing space is sufficient for a specialty grocer like Whole Foods. Similar competitors, like Greensboro, North Carolina based The Fresh Market, regularly build stores that are about 20,000 square feet.

So what would be the downside, from Whole Foods’ perspective, of coming to the Boulevard? Sure, the Boulevard has had its challenges over the years with crime and rowdy teens, but so have other great Metro-accessible shopping centers, like Gallery Place and DC USA in the District.  The Boulevard has also had the misfortune of having three of its anchors—Borders, Circuit City, and Linens ‘N Things—file for bankruptcy and close their doors.

Recently, though, things have been looking up for the Boulevard. HH Gregg and Shoppers World have taken over the Circuit City and Linens ‘N Things spaces, and a new T.G.I. Friday’s recently opened in the space vacated by Uno’s Chicago Grill. The Boulevard’s property managers have instituted a “Parental Escort Policy” that has been successful in discouraging teenagers from loitering.

Increased security and police presence throughout the Boulevard have improved both public perceptions and the realities of safety.  Furthermore, it should be noted that the old Borders property is located on the opposite end of the mall, far from the movie theater and other venues that attract many of the youngsters.

The success of the nearby Woodmore Town Center development, which houses a Wegmans grocery store, Costco, Best Buy, and other retailers, shows that there is sufficient spending power in central Prince George’s County to make a speciality grocer like Whole Foods extremely profitable.

Indeed, locating a Whole Foods at the old Borders Books store at Boulevard at the Capital Centre offers two advantages that Woodmore Town Center cannot: walkable proximity to Metro and direct visibility from a major street. (Not to mention that Whole Foods probably could not open at Woodmore anyway, given the likelihood of a restrictive covenant in favor of Wegmans that would prohibit another grocery store in that development.)

Whatever decision the Prince George’s County Planning Board and County Council eventually make regarding the rezoning of the Cafritz Property in Riverdale Park, it will likely result in years of litigation before Whole Foods, or any other commercial retailer, can start developing there. Local opposition to that new greenfield development is stiff (e.g., see here and here.)

Whole Foods cannot and should not wait that long to bring a store to Prince George’s County. Neither should Whole Foods think that there can be only one of its stores in the entire county. The old Borders Books at Boulevard at Capital Centre in Largo is “transit ready” and waiting for a store like Whole Foods.

If you agree that Whole Foods (or another specialty grocer like The Fresh Market) should come to the Boulevard, contact the following people and let them know you support the idea:

  • Whole Foods’ Master Broker for Maryland: Mark J. Katz, H&R Retail, 2800 Quarry Lake Drive, Suite 320, Baltimore, MD 21209; Email:  mkatz@HRRetail.com; 410-308-6366.
  • The Fresh Market’s Director of Real Estate for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Region: James Dewey, 628 Green Valley Road, Suite 500, Greensboro, NC 27408; Email: jamesdewey@thefreshmarket.com; 336-272-1338.
  • Property Manager for Boulevard at the Capital Centre: Mark Nicholas, Inland US Management, LLC, 2901 Butterfield Rd, Oak Brook, Illinois 60523; Email: nicholas@inland-western.com; 866.646.5263.
  • Brokerage Contact for Boulevard at the Capital Centre: Ryan Wilner, KLNB, LLC, 100 West Road, Suite 505, Baltimore, MD 21204; Email: rwilner@klnb.com; 443.632.2058