Route 450 Toys 'R' Us remains an eyesore
Dec. 18, 2003
Van Dora Williams
Special to The Gazette

City officials are becoming frustrated at the lack of progress concerning the vacant Toys 'R' Us building on Route 450 and the troubling eyesore that it has become almost a year after the accident that closed its doors. Since the February 22 roof cave-in, the store has not re-opened, further aggravating the Route 450 corridor development efforts of area leaders and residents.

"The council sent a letter to Toys 'R' Us several months ago asking about their future plans for the building. They never responded," says New Carrollton Councilman David Anderson. "A follow up letter was sent and we still have not heard anything from the company."

Susan McLaughlin, public relations director of the national corporate communications office said the company plans to take action on the property as soon as the week of Dec. 29. "Work is scheduled to begin next week to bring down the structure of the building," McLaughlin said. The company spokeswoman would not expand on what will be done with the property after the structure is razed and they would not offer any other comments about the concerns of the New Carrollton city council or their residents.

As of The Gazette deadline, however, no filing has been made with the county's permit and review division for any work on the property.

In February, the Toys 'R' Us store located at 8201 Annapolis Road was severely damaged when its roof caved in from snow and a heavy rain downpour. According to a July Gazette report, nine people were in the store when approximately 90 percent of the store's roof collapsed in just eight seconds as heavy rain added to the weight of already heavy snow. Since then, the building has been boarded up and fenced in. That was the last thing done with the building by the company.

"Its been almost a year since the roof caved in. It has the potential to be used by the homeless and we're very concerned about that," says New Carrollton Mayor Andrew C. Hanko. "We've written twice but no response. At least a courtesy response from them would've been good but we haven't received anything."

The building is nestled in a prime location where retail business is booming. The prime real estate is close to the New Carrollton metro station, which makes it particularly valuable to the city. The county assesses the value of the approximately four-acre property at $1.2 million. After ten months of non-activity, the community is beginning to seek other options for the space.

"Residents want another operation on that property, such as a restaurant for example," Anderson says. "It is an eyesore and a potential danger but we can't do anything because the building is not within our city limits."

Toys 'R' Us, an $11 billion dollar business, bought the land in 1980 and developed the building that sits on it in 1984. In spite of the store's location, the international toy company did not want to be located within the New Carrollton city limits (although it is legally located in Prince George's county). As a result, the city has no jurisdiction over the over the property or the land it sits on. No one recalls, including company officials, why the company did not want to be legally affiliated within New Carrollton or why the request was granted.

The result is the land surrounding the building is located within New Carrollton but the property itself is considered an "island" located in Prince George's county. Since the city has no jurisdiction, they cannot force Toys 'R' Us to do anything with the land or the building.

"The community is asking what's going on with the property and there isn't much we can tell them," says Prince George's County Councilman Thomas Hendershot, a leader of redevelopment of the route 450 corridor. "Toys 'R' Us owns lots of properties. If it's not costing [them] money, they don't have any corporate urgency to sell the place."

County and city officials prefer to have something done with the property and they are becoming more frustrated by the lack of response from Toys 'R' Us.

According to councilman Hendershot, a car dealership and some real estate brokerage firms have inquired about the property over the last several months.

"We would be happy to facilitate something with the property but right now we are not high on the corporate priority list," says councilman Hendershot.

The city government is considering legal means to deal with the situation. "We are looking into incorporating that property." Mayor Hanko adds. "Right now we are going to see what the legal ramifications are for us. We have our legal department looking into it and we may not know anything for at least two weeks."

New Carrollton area leaders are hopeful that the company will keep its commitment to take action on the property.

"That's a step in the right direction," Hendershot says responding to the brief statement from the national toy company. "My recommendation to Toys 'R' Us is you got a piece of property, it's valuable, do something with it, or let someone else do something with it."