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Timetables set for new Route 1 Walgreens

By Gwendolyn Glenn, gglenn@patuxent.com

8:21 AM EDT, October 5, 2011

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Officials at the Ohio-based Visconsi Companies, which is overseeing the development of a Walgreens at the intersection of routes 1 and 198, are close to starting construction of the proposed 14,820-square-foot drug store.

Visconsi handles most property acquisitions and development for Walgreens and company officials are poised to go to settlement with the owners of the nearly two-acre tract of land where the drug store will be built, according to Jeff Deeds, Visconsi's development director.

"We are closing on the property this week, but won't start some of the demolition until November," Deeds said Sept. 28.

The site is currently where a multi-level office building, a check-cashing store and two restaurants, Mango's Grill and Irene's, are located.

"We'll only demolish the large (office) building in November. The restaurants will stay until the end of the year and we'll tear them down probably in February," Deeds said. "Actual construction is scheduled to begin in March with a completion date of late summer 2012."

Plans upgraded

In addition to being pleased to have the first Walgreens built in the Laurel market, city officials are looking forward to the project because it will spruce up a prime real estate site in the Route 1 corridor, which is a priority revitalization zone.

"I'm excited about getting that blue (office) building down, which was in bankruptcy," Laurel Economic Director Karl Brendle said. "This is going to be great."

One negative aspect of the project is that existing businesses at the site will be uprooted. Managers at Irene's and Mango's Grill say they are looking for new locations, but they're not sure if they will be able to remain in Laurel.

"We'd like everyone to stay here and have given them some suggestions on available properties in the city," Brendle said. "The check-cashing store is going to a site across from Laurel Lakes that's outside of the city limits," he added, noting that check-cashing businesses are no longer permitted in the city.

In an earlier interview, Brendle said Walgreens officials had been looking for property in the Laurel market for seven years and have been responsive in including amenities city officials want in their design plans for the Route 1 drug store.

"We tried to upgrade the plans with something they would be happy with and we're ready to go now," Deeds said of the plans that Laurel's Planning Commission approved in September.

In April, Planning Commission members rejected the first design plans the company submitted for the site. Brendle and other city officials said the plans were not aesthetically appealing, which is a major criterion for new development along the Route 1 corridor.

Earlier this year, City Council members passed the unified land development code that included a section that allows city officials more leeway over the type of structures developers build in the city.

"We've raised the bar in our community appearance standards and we don't have to put up with box-like roofs that look like every other building anymore," Brendle said. "We have more latitude so that companies don't give us typical buildings. The Walgreens site is prime property on a signature corner, so I'm looking forward to their construction, and they've been very responsive and cooperative with us."

The revised design plans call for a brick and glass structure, with a prescription drive-in lane and fewer entrances than the existing businesses currently have, which pleases Brendle.

"There are four entrances there now, but the plans call for only two — one entrance from Route 1 south and one for Route 1 north, which will be safer," Brendle said.

The Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens is the country's largest drug store chain, with more than 7,500 stores nationwide. Deeds estimated that the Laurel location will add the equivalent of 30 full-time jobs to the local market when the store is fully operational.

In addition, local contractors may have an opportunity to secure some of the subcontract work on this $8-million project that Deeds said will be farmed out by the development's general contractor.