Thursday, Oct. 4, 2007

Mega-church helps revitalize community

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Pastor Anthony G. Maclin’s memories of the old Hampton Mall at 9717 Central Ave. are far from fond. He recalls the Capitol Heights mall as a haven for drug trafficking, prostitution, alcoholism and crime.

So when Maclin learned the mall was for sale in November 2002, he not only saw room for his church, then-named Glendale Baptist Church, to spread its wings, but a chance to make over a crumbling shopping district and encourage African-Americans to invest within their own county.

Nine new African-American-owned businesses, including a teen center, hair salon and day-care center, Bible Babies Child Development Center, are open for business inside the mall and in the storefront facing the parking lot.

Kwasi Holman, president of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation, said there are more than 28,000 African-American-owned businesses in Prince George’s County, and about 60,000 minority-owned businesses, including businesses with and without employees, in the county overall.

After purchasing the mall for $13 million in 2004 and forming a business group, Kingdom Management LLC, the same year, Maclin renamed the mall Kingdom Square and moved his congregation from the renovated Chevrolet dealership at 7610 Central Ave. into the space that once housed an Ames discount store. Maclin then renamed the church The Sanctuary at Kingdom Square.

Church members and elected officials such as Capitol Heights Mayor Darrell Miller, County Councilwoman Camille Exum (D-Dist. 7) of Seat Pleasant and state Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Dist. 25) of Forestville celebrated the dedication of the Kingdom Square Mall’s new façade and clock tower Sept. 14.

A community legacy grant from the state’s department of Community and Housing Development plus church funds and donations from the more than 4,000-member congregation made the $750,000 project possible.

Since Maclin moved into the mall, business has expanded. A Long John Silver Restaurant, an International House of Pancakes and Family Dollar moved onto the property. A Nextel store is expected by the end of this year and a Dunkin’ Donuts is expected to come in spring 2008.

Maclin held onto the mall’s existing businesses such as the Staples, Goodyear Auto Service and Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

‘‘If the church becomes an anchor, then the mall becomes a destination,” Maclin said. ‘‘And while I’m happy to be here, I’m getting an oil change. I’m eating breakfast at IHOP. I’m taking my kids to day care [at Bible Babies Child Development Center]. I’m taking care of my business needs at Staples.”

Maclin is not the only man of God in the county to revive once-vacant and dying shopping centers into business ventures.

The Rev. Harold B. Hayes Jr. of Suitland’s Hunter Memorial AME Church leased space in the old Silver Hill Shopping Center in 2001 and purchased the entire strip mall in 2002, renaming it Kingdom Power Plaza. Pastor Michael Freeman purchased the Oxon Run Plaza in Temple Hills and converted it into his Spirit of Faith Church in 1997. Pastor John K. Jenkins Sr., of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden purchased the Hechinger’s Warehouse on Brightseat Road in 1993 to accommodate his growing congregation. First Baptist has now outgrown the Glenarden location and moved to a brand new, 205,000-square-foot facility in Upper Marlboro Sept. 15.

While larger, better-known businesses have made Kingdom Square home, Maclin offered space to relatively unknown African-American business owners, whom he said miss out on opportunities to lease space in established malls.

‘‘We see it as creating a unique paradigm for the community and making a tremendous statement for our church that says we empower people economically,” Maclin said. ‘‘We have opportunity to recycle those dollars in the African-American [community]. We have the opportunity to be a major employer.”

Business owner Diane Gough has been a member of Maclin’s church for 12 years. Gough, of Fort Washington, ran her bridal shop, Gowns ‘N More Gowns, from a Capitol Heights storefront on Shamrock Avenue. But because she was in between residential and commercial areas, Gough said her business was often overlooked.

After Gough sold her Shamrock Avenue property because of family problems, Maclin suggested she open a business inside the growing Kingdom Mall. Now Gough has opened a new Gowns ‘N More Gowns and a second store, Sallie’s Closet, which sells church, business and formal attire.

Gough said business should improve once residents realize there is now more than just a Bally’s Total Fitness inside. She said the return on her investment is already 100 percent better than what it was on Shamrock Avenue. She said Maclin’s investment is inspiring to African American business owners like herself.

‘‘Not in my wildest imagination did I think I would be a tenant here,” Gough said. ‘‘Definitely my vision came through my pastor. He’s showing you how you can start your business.”

E-mail Natalie McGill at nmcgill@gazette.net.