Marquee demolition a sign of things to come on Grant Avenue in Manassas

City officials applauded Monday night when a 47-year-old sign that once marked the location of a Safeway grocery store, and more recently a flea market, was taken down.

A crane helped to lower the sign that stood along what was once the busy southern gateway to Manassas along Route 234 / Grant Avenue, just south of the city’s Downtown. The sign’s removal is a symbol of change coming to this corridor.

The city purchased the old Safeway building for $3.2 million 10 days ago. Now a landlord, the city will collect rent from the tenants who own shops inside the flea — a handful of small clothing boutiques, a furniture store, and cell phone retailer.

When the last merchant lease expires, the city plans to demolish the building and reclaim the land. While there is no exact plan on what will go here, there is much talk about building a larger home for the city’s police department, replacing its current headquarters on Fairview Avenue.

“They need the room not only for all of the officers and all of the cars that we have, and everything that goes along with public safety and protection but warehouse abilities, too,” said Manassas City Councilwoman Sheryl Bass. All of the investigations require so much evidence and accumulation of that, and going through it, and we’ve outgrown where we are established right now.”

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No longer the southern gateway 

Grant Avenue will get a facelift in this process. City planners are designing what the new streetscape will look like.

The busy street is a hub for pedestrians who walk to and from the adjacent Georgetown South neighborhood, and for children walking to class at Baldwin Elementary, Metz Middle, and Osbourn High schools.

The street has four lanes of traffic and is difficult to cross.

“We’re looking at doing a road dieting plan,” said Manassas City Manager Patrick Pate. “The traffic patterns show that you could probably get by with one lane in each direction and turn lanes.”

Grant Avenue was once the southern gateway to the city for drivers entering the city from Prince William County. An underpass that carries vehicles underneath railroad tracks in Downtown was instrumental in unclogging delays for drivers sitting at railroad crossings.

The construction of the Prince William Parkway changed traffic patterns, and today drivers access the city mainly Route 28 to the west and Prince William Parkway to the southeast.

A public hearing was held earlier this month at Georgetown South to see what residents wanted to see in a redesigned Grant Avenue. Elected leaders say it’s a chance to expand the type of new construction development seen in Downtown, where new office and condominium buildings have risen.

“This side of the railroad tracks matters too,” said Manassas City Councilman Marc Aveni. “Think about it. Most of the development has been on [the Downtown] side of the railroad tracks and now we’re working our way over here. I think it’s great.”

Closing up shop

Things aren’t so great for the owners of City Wireless inside flea market. A man who asked be called Mike said he and his mother had sold cell phones from a booth inside the flea market for the past six years.

The two of them had built up a solid customer base at City Wireless during that time, gaining business mainly from Georgetown South residents who can walk to their shop.

Mike and his mother have until the end of August to close up shop and move. Due to higher rents in buildings nearby, Mike and his mom probably won’t be able to reopen a new store within a square mile of his current location.

“I called over to the [Wellington] Giant shopping center… they’ve got a space open… it’s $5,000 a month,” he said. “We can’t afford that.”

Many other shopping centers already have cell phone retailers, and they’re not too keen on the idea of City Wireless locating there because they don’t want competition for their existing clients, said Mike.

It’s also a crowded market, one that’s gotten “big and easy” to enter, he added.

City Wireless isn’t the first to leave the flea market. A photography studio recently closed up shop, and stores that sell clothing, music, and furniture are soon to follow.

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