I-95 exit in PG not living up to potential
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Jan 27, 2014, 11:56
PRINCE GEORGE — A potential spot for commercial success just off of Interstate 95 in Prince George County has experienced a decline in the past few years due to an absence of adequate businesses and poorly maintained properties.
However, a recent report released by Management Analysis Inc. emphasizes that the area surrounding Exit 45 can become a new foundation for touristic prosperity through revitalization efforts.
Located less than three hours in driving time from Washington D.C., Exit 45 lies in an advantageous location because it is an “ideal” length of time for drivers from the capital to want to take a break from the road, according to the report.
In the face of this high volume of passing traffic, there are many obstacles impeding the economic success of the businesses in the area.
Jeff Stoke, deputy county administrator and director of economic development for Prince George, demonstrated at the Board of Supervisors meeting last week that since a new 1,000-room hotel opened up in Fort Lee, there has been a noticeable decline in the hotel business off of Exit 45, a 40 percent decrease from September 2012 to September 2013.
On top of this competitive disadvantage, hotels off of Exit 45 have been decreasing their rates to pull in customers, which has only created a general rate erosion, where hotels are continuing to cut their rates to compete and have difficulty ever raising prices back up.
Despite the recent competition from Fort Lee lodging, there are many other factors playing a part in the economic decline of Exit 45 as well.
With six hotels offering 1,320 people lodging within 660 rooms, the report says that there is a disproportionate restaurant capacity in the surrounding area given the circumstance that the hotels are booked to full capacity.
Of the few dining establishments to offer, only one, The Lighthouse Restaurant, is open at night or on Sundays, minimizing restaurant options for anyone entering the area at night or on the weekends.
In addition to the lack of restaurants off the exit, there is a general lack of touristic appeal at all. There are no convenience or retail stores, no visitors’ centers or historical attractions, no public restrooms for any non-hotel guests (passers through are turned away at gas stations) and there aren’t even any sidewalks along the roadside.
Add in the overall visibly uninviting atmosphere from the interstate, with rundown pools and tennis courts, boarded up residences and vacant business buildings, and it becomes evident that tourists are discouraged from stopping in the area.
There have been complaints from the Holiday Inn Express stating that the surrounding area is not clean, Stoke said.
The report specifically draws out six possible solutions to help revitalize Exit 45 and pull in a greater number of tourists who are driving through the county. The first suggestion is that the county could designate the area as a “Tourism Zone,” offering certain incentives and assistance to new or renovated businesses in the zone, with a strong focus on restaurant marketing.
Other potential solutions listed in the report include making streetscape improvements such as lighting and sidewalks, enforce rules for businesses to maintain and clean up their properties, condemn or demolish vacant and dilapidated buildings, increase advertising on nearby interstate billboards and establish new visitor facilities such as a visitors’ center or small roadside park.
“It appears that if no action is taken, business at the Exit may decline even further,” the report states.
Stoke said that there are a slew of first steps the county can take in kick-starting this revitalization, including initiating discussions with the existing business owners in the area, establishing parameters for what would become the Tourism Zone, allocating county tourism funds toward certain reconstructive efforts such as street lighting and asking private businesses to invest in several beautification projects.