Waking Up Wilmer’s

An 80-acre site in Brandywine, Md., that hosted concerts by James Brown, B.B. King, Gladys Knight & The Pips and Stevie Wonder during the ’50s and ’60s, could get a second shot from one developer’s plans for the land, currently under consideration by local council.

Wilmer’s Park was one of a string of venues that allowed black performers during times of racial segregation in the U.S. In its later years the site hosted jam-band festivals, but it has remained mostly silent since Prince George’s County officials redefined its zoning regulations in 2002.

Bruce Chatman’s plans would change all that. The owner/developer’s got big ideas for the site including tearing down the old structures on the property and building a "rural entertainment park," according to the Washington Post. The development would feature a 5,000- to 6,000-seat theatre, restaurant and museum, along with condos, shopping, a church, nightclub and hotel.

Chatman contends he’s trying to preserve the history of the famed site.

"I realize so much has been lost," he told the Post. "I have a strong affinity for trying to save part of our cultural heritage."

But some members of the community aren’t buying it, and say the project doesn’t fit.

Kelly Canavan, president of the Accokeek, Mattawoman, Piscataway Creeks Communities Council, told the paper the area isn’t suited for such a development and would tie up local roads.

"It’s not returning the heritage, and it’s not celebrating its history," Canavan said. "It’s using that as an excuse to completely redevelop in a way that’s totally incongruent with what else is in that area."

The land is currently zoned for open space, and Chatman’s plan reportedly requires that the site’s zoning be changed due to its "important cultural or historical theme."

While his bill to change the zoning has already cleared a small committee, it’ll have to be approved by both the county council and a zoning hearing examiner in coming months before construction could get under way.

Chatman told the Post the project opponents’ hostility toward growth at the site would only hurt the community in the end, while other counties would reap the benefits of economic development.

"Whether you like it or not, development is coming. It can be development of your choosing, or it will be development chosen for you by other people," he said. "When it goes into Charles County, you don’t have any choice."