Creative Life in the Gateway Arts District
Jesse Christopherson, city councilman and member of the Mount Rainier Economic Development Committee, shares a bit about what’s happening in Mount Rainier.
Mount Rainier likes to think of itself as a special place. An outsider could be forgiven for taking our superficial anonymity at face value, but those of us who live here feel like we’ve lucked into a hidden treasure. There are some real geographic barriers that help preserve the city’s identity as a community and help legitimize our civic pride. Eastern Avenue to the west is the Maryland state line and Washington, D.C.’s northeastern border. The southern end of town is the CSX rail line, passable only using Eastern Avenue. On the north we bump against Queens Chapel Rd., also known as Maryland State Highway 500. Only on the east do we blend easily into our neighbors Brentwood and Cottage City.
A typical commuter will drive through Mount Rainier without knowing or caring what city they’re in. There are no landmarks except for the traffic circle on Rhode Island Avenue. There are no destination restaurants, no art festivals. We do have a nice selection of hulking, run-down buildings. If we’re known for one thing, it’s the circle. If we’re known for two things, they’re the circle and Glut. If we’re known for three things, they’re the circle, Glut, and our rotting infrastructure.
Happily, developer interest in Mount Rainier has been ramping up. We are in the final planning stages for a signature building at Rhode Island and Eastern Avenues. In the next block over, the County Redevelopment Authority came through in a big way by purchasing the Singer Building, sending out a request for proposals, and selecting a developer (Menkiti Group). Those two projects will immediately transform our city’s image, particularly because of their location at the city, county, and state borders. The city is also involved in planning an iconic, artistic Gateway project that will let visitors know they have arrived somewhere special when they cross Eastern Avenue into Mount Rainier. Victor Hoskins was leading the county’s involvement in the project before he left for Arlington, but County Executive Rushern Baker has reassured us that it will proceed as planned.
With the addition of a dedicated economic development director to the city staff, we are better positioned to catch the wave of development that we expect to splash across the region in the next few years. The mayor and city council are united in their effort to make sure development within city limits adheres to our award-winning Mixed-Use Town Center Development Plan. In short, we want to keep our character throughout the development process. We aren’t looking to cash in by inviting bland gentrification; we’re carefully vetting the developers we work with to make sure their retail partners are appropriate for our community. We’re also discussing other strategies to keep a democratic handle on our economic progress.