In case you missed it, I wrote an opinion column that was published in last Wednesday’s Diamondback student newspaper entitled “Wawa, good riddance”. To read it, go here.
In summary, I celebrated the demise of the College Park Wawa and how it symbolized the less than desirable conditions of College Park. And while Wawa wasn’t the sole cause of College Park’s decline, it was perhaps the face of it due to routine weekend vandalizing from drunken bar-goers. I hoped that Wawa’s closing could catalyze future fundamental changes in downtown College Park to improve its sustainability and become more pedestrian-friendly. I called on JBG Rosenfeld Retail, the landlord of College Park Shopping Center where Wawa is located, to follow the East Campus Initiative’s lead and recognize the market and need for more attractive options for retail and housing in downtown College Park.
The College Park Shopping Center was built in 1949, where a society dominated by car culture called for a strip mall with easily accessible surface parking at the expense of pedestrians. There are several long-term leases on the property, including CVS/pharmacy and Bank of America. JBGR owns this main L-shaped center, as well as the lot one block to the south, which encompasses FedEx Kinko’s and Applebee’s. The official profile of the shopping center can be found here.
Following publication, I received a lot of attention and feedback. However, almost none of it was from undergraduate students, which was my original intention. Even though the scope of my editorial went far beyond Wawa, I hoped that using it as a scapegoat would draw attention from those lamenting the loss of a late-night hangout. Instead, the bulk of feedback came from professionals and alums, most of whom praised my column and agreed with the principle that change was needed in College Park. One individual noted that it was a shame that downtown College Park did not more accurately reflect the presence of a nationally-recognized planning program, as well as the innovative National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education center on campus.
This week, I was surprised to learn that the principal of JBG Rosenfeld Retail, Robert Rosenfeld, teaches a class in Real Estate Finance in the Real Estate Development graduate program on campus. He had read my column and had assigned it to his students in preparation for class discussion. This past Monday, I introduced myself to Mr. Rosenfeld and sat in on his class discussion. While the reaction to my column was overwhelmingly positive, insightful questions such as the perceived lack of financial incentive for JBGR to redevelop the property were brought up. Mr. Rosenfeld responded that long-term leases that give an unusual amount of clout to tenants such as CVS make a revisionary effort in downtown more cumbersome.
However, Mr. Rosenfeld said that his company would observe the progress of East Campus very closely to see what impacts it has on the retail and development climate of downtown College Park. Finally, he offered a tentative plan to redevelop the southern lot with Applebee’s into a mixed-use, multi-story building with retail on the bottom floor and housing for rent on the upper floors. The plan is four years away, he says, but it would go towards transforming College Park from its present state.
In conclusion, I have welcomed all the feedback that I have received from the column and I look forward to yours. The question I grapple with everyday is how to ensure students get a seat at the table when their general apathy towards these issues persists. In the coming weeks, I hope to come up with ideas to encourage active student participation in a time of hope and transition for College Park. Stay tuned.