When the Gateway Arts and Entertainment District was formed in 2001, officials hoped it would spark business growth in the four municipalities it encompassed.
Twelve years later, only one city in the district, Hyattsville, has experienced growth in retail, Gateway officials said, while the other three — Brentwood, North Brentwood and Mount Rainier — lag behind.
The district was started as a way to support artists, who receive tax benefits if they sell art in the district, and to foster business growth in the municipalities.
“I would say that it is has been a very tough road,” said Nisey Baylor, former president of the Mount Rainier Business Association.
Baylor, who led the association from 2008 to 2012, estimated there are about 80 to 100 businesses in Mount Rainier, but said she had seen little growth since the arts district launched.
Gateway Community Development Corp. officials cite less resources, such as smaller budgets and municipal staff, in Mount Rainier, Brentwood and North Brentwood as a reason why development has lagged.
“It is just a different dynamic in Hyattsville,” said Carole Bernard, executive director of the Gateway Community Development Corp., a nonprofit that works to help spur economic growth in the three other municipalities.
As a result, Gateway officials are conducting a business survey set to be completed this month to better understand the challenges. Bernard said she hopes to use the survey to develop strategies to get growth on track.
“In terms of businesses, they need a market to support their business goals,” Bernard said. “That kind of consistent foot traffic is not quite here yet, but it is coming, and so I think it is a matter of a little more development.”
Stuart Eisenberg, executive director of the Hyattsville Community Development Corp., said the arts district designation helps with marketing Hyattsville, but to attract developers and businesses, municipalities and other officials need to market properties to investors and help situate businesses that have a good chance of surviving.
“I think there was more proactive activity in Hyattsville and that we were aggressive and informed,” Eisenberg said.
Hyattsville has added a new shopping center, which includes businesses such as Yes! Organic Market, Elevation Burger and Bus Boys and Poets, which many see as a central development in the arts district.
Bernard said she hopes the effort gets a boost from three development projects: an African American Museum and Cultural Center in North Brentwood with construction set to start in 2014; a possible mixed-use facility or CVS Pharmacy on Rhode Island Avenue in Brentwood; and a five-story mixed-use facility in Mount Rainier, with construction set to start this year.
North Brentwood Councilman Aaron Baynes said he hopes the museum will help spark growth.
Brentwood Councilwoman Nina Young said she was pleased with the work Gateway officials had done to create the gallery space for artists along Route 1, but said she wants more restaurants and retail to open.
“We have great gallery ... but we don’t want the people to go to Hyattsville or College Park once they leave to get food,” she said.