County re­tail, ho­tel out­looks ap­pear bright

Two eco­nomic stud­ies pre­dict re­bound for U.S. 301 cor­ri­dor

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By PAUL LAGASSE pla­gasse@somd­news.com

De­spite re­cent high-pro­file store clo­sures, the re­tail out­look for Charles County is bright as in­vestors seek op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­pand, said Tay­lor Yewell, rede­vel­op­ment man­ager in the county’s Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Depart­ment. The depart­ment pre­sented the re­sults of its re­cent study of lo­cal re­tail trends at its quar­terly busi­ness round­table on Wed­nes­day morn­ing at the Wal­dorf West Li­brary.

Yewell said the study found that the clo­sures

in Wal­dorf of the Sports Au­thor­ity last year and the HH Gregg store ear­lier this year were re­flec­tive of na­tional trends in con­sumer buy­ing pat­terns rather than in­di­ca­tors of the health of the lo­cal econ­omy.

“Even with the clo­sure of ma­jor re­tail­ers and shop­ping cen­ters, in­vestors are still look­ing to de­velop new re­tail ex­pe­ri­ences and re­tail op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Yewell said.

Charles County is at­trac­tive to re­tail in­vestors in part be­cause it has ap­prox­i­mately 9 mil­lion square feet of ex­ist­ing re­tail space in the form of shop­ping cen­ters, malls and free­stand­ing stores. Fur­ther­more, most of that space is lo­cated along the busy US. 301 cor­ri­dor.

“I think the traf­fic count in Wal­dorf at its peak is about 50,000 cars an hour,” Yewell said. “So you can see the at­trac­tion to re­tail.”

The chal­lenge, ac­cord­ing to Yewell, is to find ways to help brick-and-mor­tar re­tail­ers com­pete against on­line re­tail, which ac­counts for 8 to 10 per­cent of re­tail sales na­tion­ally.

“Ma­jor re­tail­ers are jump­ing on the on­line band­wagon,”

Yewell said. “You can go to Macy’s and buy a watch, or you can go on the Macy’s web­site and buy a watch there. It’s still com­ing from Macy’s, but that doesn’t help the shop­ping cen­ter own­ers a whole lot be­cause they’re see­ing spa­ces go va­cant. And that be­comes a chal­lenge for us.”

The Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Depart­ment also con­ducted a study of the ho­tel mar­ket dy­nam­ics at work in the Wal­dorf area.

“Wal­dorf has a very ac­tive ho­tel mar­ket that re­flects its lo­ca­tion along one of the busiest U.S. high­ways on the At­lantic seaboard,” the study con­cluded. The depart­ment de­cided to fo­cus on Wal­dorf be­cause La Plata and In­dian Head, while hav­ing name-brand ho­tels of their own, were con­sid­ered far enough away to have their own dis­tinct pat­terns of de­mand.

Ac­cord­ing to Yewell, Wal­dorf’s ho­tels are used by a healthy mix of busi­ness and leisure trav­el­ers.

“The two busiest days of the work week are Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, which in­di­cates busi­ness trav­el­ers,” Yewell said. “And then it spikes on Satur­day, which means there are a lot of leisure trav­el­ers com­ing in to Charles County, stay­ing in the ho­tels on the week­end.

That is a bit of a sur­prise. And I can tell you that it is good news for ho­tel own­ers and op­er­a­tors.”

“All the key in­di­ca­tors are pos­i­tive and trend­ing up­ward,” Yewell said. “Over the last five years, oc­cu­pancy rates and rev­enue per avail­able room have risen. These are all the things that po­ten­tial in­vestors look at be­fore they make a de­ci­sion.”

“We would say that Wal­dorf’s ho­tel mar­ket could prob­a­bly sup­port a new ho­tel,” Yewell con­cluded.

Michelle DeSoto, the depart­ment’s project co­or­di­na­tor, pro­vided an up­date on progress with the new Gov. Harry W. Nice Memo­rial Bridge. She ex­plained that the bridge’s bud­get has been re­duced from $1 bil­lion to $769 mil­lion as a re­sult of nar­row­ing the bridge to match the width of the ap­proach­ing lanes. The plan is to be­gin ad­ver­tis­ing for bid­ders in Oc­to­ber 2018 with con­struc­tion to be­gin the fol­low­ing year and aim­ing for a grand open­ing in 2020.

Deputy di­rec­tor Mar­cia Keeth dis­cussed some of the fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives that the county is mak­ing avail­able to busi­nesses that are con­sid­er­ing mov­ing into the county. These in­clude small busi­ness loans of up to $30,000, tar­geted in­dus­try loans of up to $100,000 and Prop­erty As­sessed Clean En­ergy (PACE) fi­nanc­ing, which al­lows com­mer­cial prop­erty own­ers to fi­nance en­ergy ef­fi­cient up­grades to ex­ist­ing struc­tures as well as new con­struc­tion.

“We’re go­ing to be very ag­gres­sive about get­ting the news of those loan pro­grams out there,” Keeth said.

Dur­ing the Q&A that fol­lowed the pre­sen­ta­tions, Yewell, Keeth and depart­ment di­rec­tor Dar­rell Brown up­dated at­ten­dees about on­go­ing dis­cus­sions with state leg­is­la­tors to al­low the county to use tax in­cre­ment fi­nanc­ing (TIF) funds for mixed-use de­vel­op­ment. TIF funds are used to pay for typ­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture ex­penses and pub­lic ameni­ties through mu­nic­i­pal bonds. Un­like other Mary­land coun­ties, Charles can­not use TIF funds to pay for such fea­tures in de­vel­op­ments that com­bine res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial uses. Brown also re­vealed that the county is in dis­cus­sions with a po­ten­tial air­port op­er­a­tor to pur­chase the Mary­land Air­port near In­dian Head. Yewell also said that a “for­eign in­vestor” has ex­pressed in­ter­est in build­ing a ho­tel and re­sort cen­ter in Swan Point.

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