It proved to be far more than a simple groundbreaking.
Seat Pleasant residents, neighbors, city and county officials turned out en masse on Sept. 29 in Goodwin Park to celebrate the start of the first major development in the city in three decades. Along with fiery speeches, the four-hour event included a pre-recorded message from tennis great Venus Williams and live performances by two Grammy Award-winning singers and others.
The focus of what several speakers referred to as a historic day was a new "City Center," set to be developed on 15 acres in Goodwin Park. The $60 million project will include a new city hall building, a medical mall, a recreation center, a youth center, and residential units for seniors, green space and parking.
"Today is the beginning of a great day for Seat Pleasant – a city of excellence," Mayor Eugene W. Grant told the crowd on a sunny Saturday morning. "The best is yet to come," he promised. The crowd of approximately 300 jumped up from their seats and clapped during the mayor's at times passionate speech about a renaissance in the city.
Seat Pleasant City Council members Kelly Porter, Johnie L. Higgs and ReveralYeargin along with Greenbelt Mayor Judith Davis also addressed those who had gathered on the grounds. Grant and others donned green hard hats and in unison – with shovels in hand – turned the rich black soil over once – in a ceremonial gesture that would forever be remembered by longtime residents and Seat Pleasant politicians.
"We turn the soil today for our future," Grant said.
The mayor chastised "naysayers, negative people" and said that "many people counted Seat Pleasant out and looked down on this area and community, even some elected officials ..."
"We will no longer walk around with our heads down," said Grant. "We will hold it up with pride. We will have dignity."
The city is partnering with Kratos Infrastructure, a developer of large-scale projects that "integrate [and] distribute, renewable energy production with sustainable infrastructure through strategic relationships."
The $60 million project will be financed through a long-term lease agreement between the city and Kratos and its partners. The city has promised that there will be no additional subsidies or property tax increases incurred by residents to complete the project. The city of Seat Pleasant has also gone a step further and pledged more than $100,000 to begin pre-development activity.
The City Center project, which is being described as "green,"is expected to be LEED-Platinum, which is a designation meaning it achieves a high standard in sustainability, water savings, energy efficiency, environmental health and more. The buildings are expected to include energy efficient solar panels and other renewable energy solutions.
Williams, founder of V*STARR Interiors, said that she's currently in talks with Seat Pleasant officials about providing interior design services for the city hall and the community center.
Several people who attended the groundbreaking ceremony said they were pleased to hear about the development.
Tomi Bannister, 58, of Montgomery County, said that she supports the mayor.
"I think it's phenomenal for this community," said Bannister. "All citizens of Maryland deserve the best quality services, and the community is certainly deserving."
A Prince George's County resident who attended the event agreed with Bannister.
Nellie Minor, 75, of Capitol Heights said she has lived in the area for 40 years.
"I been waiting for the senior building to come forever," said Minor. "I think it's great. I don't know if I will live to see it finished, but I think it's great."
Reginald Carnegie, 60, of Seat Pleasant, also said he liked the project and praised the mayor for his leadership.
"I think our mayor has really done a great job," said Carnegie."I think it's going to be a blessing. We are headed in the right direction."
After the morning groundbreaking ceremony, the crowd swelled to an estimated 3,500 when performers such as singers Chrisette Michele and Raheem DeVaughn took to the stage.
The project is expected to take two years to complete, and design and planning for the City Center begins this month.
Grant cautioned the audience that the development will not happen overnight.
"You have to manage your expectations," he said.