Upper Marlboro residents and officials want to see the town’s vacant and run-down properties transformed to create a destination downtown space.
Stephen Sonnett, president of the town’s board of commissioners, said he wants to repurpose old buildings such as the Old Marlboro Elementary School in the hopes that it will revitalize the town to become a retail center as the current downtown area consists of several blocks of mostly vacant properties on Main Street.
Sonnett said the commissioners asked the Prince George’s County planning department to conduct an in-depth study on the school — the former Marlboro High School built in 1896 — to see what types of adaptive reuse would work best.
Residents have suggested making the building into a new art center, senior citizen center or a civic center, Sonnett said.
Kate Germano, chair of the Upper Marlboro Historic Committee, said it plans to meet Sept. 7 to gauge community feedback on the school conversion.
“Right now [the town] is really focused on the courts, which is another reason we’re trying to focus on the historic preservation,” Germano said.
She said she’d love to get a farmer’s market to the school and art shops there.
“If we don’t do something with the school and preserve it then somebody is going to take it from us,” Germano said.
Repurposing the old school is part of a larger effort the commissioners are going to submit by October for state grants through the Maryland’s Smart Growth Initiative, which aids municipalities in revitalizing communities through grants.
“Our application to Smart Growth is going to be to rehabilitate, renovate and update the town so it becomes an attractive historic village,” Sonnett said.
David Harrington, president of the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce, said repurposing older structures brings attention to development.
“You have to start some place,” Harrington said. “Otherwise there’s nothing there to say you’re open to new ideas.”
Harrington said restaurants and office space may work well near Main Street, because the County Administration Building is located in Upper Marlboro.
“There’s tremendous foot traffic and it’s wide open for Upper Marlboro,” Harrington said.
Sonnett said he wants the downtown area to have shops that have a look like that of Olde Towne Inn restaurant on Main Street, which stands out from other buildings thanks to a fresh exterior.
Donnell Long, owner of Olde Towne Inn, estimates that his building is about 80 years old.
“It was an ugly gray and black building,” Long said. “We had a vision and we kind of executed that.”
Since painting the exterior, Long said he’s had people coming in from all over the area.
“We have a great look and a great product,” Long said. “People hear about you really fast.”
Sonnett said he hopes fixing up the school will not only remove an eyesore, but it may be a spark to the rest of the downtown area to move ahead.
“We know what we think would make the town nice,” Sonnett said. “But it’s going to be long process.”