BY ALEXANDRA ALPERT and KIT SLACK
New apartment buildings coming to College Park are displacing small restaurants and other businesses in two areas on opposite ends of campus: Campus Village Shoppes, in Lakeland, and the Terrapin Main Street retail strip near the corner of Baltimore Avenue and Hartwick Road, anchored by Pho Tom and Northwest Chinese Food.
Both new developments are expected to provide 5 floors of student housing with ground-floor retail below.
The City of College Park is looking at ways to help small businesses stay in College Park after they are displaced by development.
The current annual budget, for fiscal 2024, includes a $75,000 business retention fund, intended to keep small businesses in the city and attract new ones, according to Michael Williams, College Park’s economic development director. “We wanted to retain some of the businesses who make up the fabric and the character of College Park,” Williams said in an interview.
The budget, which totals $24.8 million, also includes a three-cent tax increase on commercial property and apartment buildings, which could provide additional funding to support small business retention. The commercial tax rate was increased from 30.18 cents to 33.18 cents per hundred dollars of assessed value, while residential properties continue to be taxed at 30.18 cents. Both rates are the lowest in the county, according to the city, and below the tax rate of 33.50 cents that was in effect from 2014 to 2019.
The tax increase is expected to generate $515,000 in additional revenue during this fiscal year, which could also be allocated to help local businesses. City staff mentioned senior assistance and student housing rental subsidies as other potential uses for the revenue, in the announcement of the budget’s passage in May.
Councilmember Stuart Adams (District 3) said in an interview with the Here & Now that around half of the funds raised by the tax increase could reach local businesses. “It could be more,” he said. “The council will have to make a determination on that in a future meeting.”
Laser Essential, from Campus Village Shoppes, is the first business that the city approved for relocation assistance. On Oct. 17, the city council allocated $23,000 to Laser Essential, leaving a balance of $52,000 in the fund. Laser Essential has successfully relocated to 9658 Baltimore Avenue.
During the Oct. 17 meeting, councilmembers asked Williams whether the remaining funds would be sufficient to fund other businesses in the city.
“I really didn’t think that we would be in this position to [need to] help so many of the merchants … But when you displace 15 merchants at one time, that’s a lot of space to look for and a lot of money for those merchants to go to a new space and build out,” Williams said in the Oct. 17 meeting.
Businesses seeking relocation assistance can apply online and then work with Williams to determine their needs and the amount the city could provide. The city is working closely with businesses to identify available retail spaces.
“In general, we prioritize businesses that are locally owned, locally managed, small and minority-owned, and offer a service that is celebrated and dear to the community in College Park,” Adams said.
There are nearly 1,400 businesses in College Park, including restaurants, retail, warehouses, and home-based businesses, according to a College Park city staff analysis of tax records presented to the city council in May of 2023.
In recent years, College Park has distributed $1.9 million in federal aid money to local businesses to counteract the negative impact of COVID-19, and has budgeted an additional $450,000 for such grants this fiscal year, according to the city budget.
Alexandra Alpert is an intern at the College Park Here & Now.