First off, please note that our next Ward 1 Meet-Up is still scheduled for this Sunday at the Nature Center, but the time has changed to 3pm-5pm. By that point, we will have the City Manager’s proposed budget in-hand so there will be lots to talk about.
Second, we are happy to report that our City Manager, Miranda Braatz, is again demonstrating how lucky we are to have her solid leadership. Over the past couple of months, she has been able to hire her first hand-picked leaders for both our Economic Development and Police Departments.
The results are encouraging.
On the policing front, you may notice officers walking or riding more around town. This is not by accident. This is the direction you should expect from our new Police Chief, Anthony Morgan, who is building a proactive and collaborative police force focused on community policing. We are excited to see how he plans to further restructure MRPD to move us closer to a community policing focus.
And after years of on-again, off-again relationships with developers, our new Director of Economic Development, Ronald Hopkins, is working closely with our commercial real estate agent, Jerry Dawson, to market not only 3200 Rhode Island Avenue, but our entire downtown core.
Towards that end, we have now met with over 67 local developers, and had an excellent showing at a developers’ conference at National Harbor in early March. In building on that momentum, we will be hosting an “Investors Open House” on April 25th. This networking event will be co-sponsored by the Prince George’s Economic Development Corporation, whose access to capital and relationships is vital to redevelopment. Mr. Hopkins’ work in a short time is inspiring, and mirrors the transformation our City Manager was able to accomplish in Public Works and Finance. We already have over 20 developers that have RSVP’d for this event.
These developers represent a variety of potential economic drivers – from doctors’ offices to mixed-use developers – that all would represent an improvement over closed storefronts.
For us, personally, we want to see 3200 Rhode Island Avenue as a mixed-use development, with a substantial amount of market-rate residential apartments. It is this type of dense living that brings with it a demand for services. Whether those services are a local coffee shop, a credit union, or a place to grab a drink, increasing the sheer number of people who live in our downtown core increases the chances that someone is willing to risk their own money to open up one of those businesses. That is, it makes Mount Rainier more economically viable.
Furthermore, by providing market-rate apartments, the city can further diversify its residential make-up. Currently, the majority of residents with disposable income to drive economic growth live in single-family homes. Much of this population is made up of families with predictable spending patterns (e.g., eating between 5-7pm and in bed by 10pm). There is only so much economic growth this population can support.
If we are to support economic growth, we need to supplement this population with apartment buildings that attract young professionals who have not yet started families, as well as senior citizens looking to downsize. Both are prone to spending their money at different times of the day. This also increases the viability of opening up a business in Mount Rainier.
In doing so, we can start to create a virtuous cycle of development. Economic development diversifies the tax base, thereby increasing the possibility of returning tax dollars to single-family home owners who are currently carrying too much of the tax burden. This will, in turn, allow residents to age in place. It also provides the city with the opportunity to look at even more creative solutions like Community Land Trusts to keep affordable housing in Mount Rainier. In sum, it is how we manage promoting both economic development and a diverse community of age, culture, and socio-economic status.
But none of this just happens. We need to push to improve the look and feel of our streets and sidewalks (Memorial Park! Public Art!) to encourage people to want to walk our streets and shop in our businesses, while also supporting the continued professionalizing of our workforce. And on those fronts, we are so optimistic for our future because we see the grunt work going in to making both these things reality.
Do you agree? Would you like to see different development goals for our downtown, like medical offices or an urgent care center at 3200 Rhode Island Avenue? Whatever your opinion, we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Luke and Celina