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Artists Sizzle at Mt. Rainier's Better Block Night

Local Businesses Open their Doors to Growing Clientele

D. Kevin McNeir, Special to The Washington Informer | 4/30/2014, 3 p.m.
A couple mixed it up on the dance floor during Mt. Rainier's annual festival, Better Block Night on April 25. (Courtesy of Joe's Movement Emporium)

Despite intermittent showers and brisk winds, diehard shoppers and supporters of the arts strolled through the commercial district of downtown Mt. Rainier last Friday evening to enjoy the town’s annual street festival, Better Block Night. Crowds converged at the Mt. Rainier Circle and intersecting streets of Rhode Island Avenue and 34th Street, which came to life with music, workshops, a parade, performances, open studios, arts activities and more.

Through an Art Lives Here initiative, the arts community now partners with local businesses, two community development corporations, four cities and Prince George’s County to increase regional visibility for the Gateway Arts District.

County Executive Rushern Baker III has been selected as the honorary chair for the Art Lives Here 2014 season during which time more than 20 events will take place. Baker, unavailable for comment, met on Thursday, April 24 with leaders of local arts organizations and Art Lives Here partners to kick off the 2014 season. Carole Bernard, executive director, Gateway Community Development Corporation attended the meeting and said the support that her organization has received from both the state and the county has been “huge.”

“We serve Mt. Rainier, Brentwood and North Brentwood and along with Hyattsville the four cities make up the Gateway Project,” she said. “We’re delighted to see the county’s investment facilitated through the Redevelopment Authority. Two projects are under development in Brentwood and an RFP has just been released for a third property in Mt. Rainier where the former Singer Building [3300 block of Rhode Island Ave.] once operated,” Bernard said.

“It’s this kind of commitment that local leaders can use as a catalyst to spur the economic driving force we need to get others to move into our community. Our goal is to maintain a small town feel while also broadening the economic base. The financial resources we’ve gotten so far from the state and county have been vital to our success but for us to continue in that vein we’ll need sustained and additional support.”

When asked to assess the county’s commitment to businesses in Prince George’s County, Mt. Rainier City Manager Jeannelle Wallace said “they are now putting their money where their mouth is.”

“… The county has said it will put up $4 million through the waiver of fees, as one example, to encourage developers interested in participating in the rehab project of the 3200 block of Rhode Island Avenue,” Wallace said.

“That’s the entry way to the City of Mt. Rainier. Granted, the proposal has been on the table for a while and an agreement has not been reached with the developer. … My office has been told that the county executive budget director’s office and the chief of staff both feel that an agreement is eminent. Projects like these help in the rehabilitation of the south side of Rhode Island Avenue that leads into the District and are essential as many of those buildings have been vacant for almost two decades.”

Block Night Aims for Increased Visibility

Better Block Night celebrated its third anniversary on April 25 and has evolved into a nighttime festival that brings together the community’s businesses and arts district with potential shoppers from across the area that are looking for creatively-designed, affordably-priced items.