Archives September 2013

How can White Flint draw local businesses?

Starbucks is great, but how can we make room for local businesses in White Flint?

When Federal Realty Investment Trust announced the first six restaurants that will open at Pike + Rose, the mixed-use development at Rockville Pike and Montrose Road, some people were upset they were all chains. Will there be a place for local businesses in the future White Flint?

Representatives from Federal Realty say their goal is to create an interesting array of shops and restaurants, regardless of what they are. “It’s less important to us whether something is a chain than [having] a mix of retail types, a mix of expense points, and a mix of dining types,” says Evan Goldman, vice president of development. “We want . . . a diverse mix of options to get a diverse mix of people there.”

There’s a lot of risk in opening a new retail project like Pike + Rose. Even on a busy corridor like Rockville Pike, successful retail isn’t a given, and both developers and business owners want to minimize risk. Unlike chains, which have a standard store format that’s easy to recreate, small business owners also have to design and build a space from scratch, which takes money and time.

And if an entrepreneur opens a second location that fails, their business may be sunk. If a chain’s 20th store isn’t successful, existing branches can help subsidize it. That’s why developers often find it easier to work with chains in new projects.

“We know they can perform, they know they can perform,” Goldman says. “And God forbid it doesn’t perform, it’s not going to take down their company or ours.”

Where do chains go today?

When Pike + Rose is finished several years from now, it may look like other town center developments in the region, with a mix of stand-alone stores, national chains, and local chains, which I define as locally-owned businesses whose locations are primarily in the DC area. So Georgetown-based Sweetgreen counts, because all but 4 of its 20 locations are here, but Virginia-based Five Guys, which has over 1,000 locations across North America, doesn’t.

Some projects have more locals than others. They’re 22% of the businesses at the Market Common at Clarendon to 65% at the Mosaic District in Fairfax. At Bethesda Row and Rockville Town Square, both owned by Federal Realty, locals make up between 50 and 60% of all businesses.

The distribution of chains vs. local businesses at 7 DC-area town center projects.

The distribution of chains vs. local businesses at 7 DC-area town center projects.

Locally-owned restaurants and shops, whether one-offs or small chains, can be an asset for communities, supporting the local economy and providing unique attraction for customers. To make it easier for them to open, they need to have lower risks. There are two ways to do that: reduce the cost of doing business, or increase the potential number of customers.

Lower rents reduce the risks for local businesses

One way is to lower the cost of rent, often by seeking out cheaper, older spaces. In White Flint, that means the 1960’s- and 70’s-era strip malls along Rockville Pike, or the light industrial buildings off of Boiling Brook Parkway. Economist and food critic Tyler Cowen notes that these kind of spaces are often fertile ground for innovative or ethnic restaurants:

Low-rent restaurants can experiment at relatively low risk. If a food idea does not work out, the proprietor is not left with an expensive lease. As a result, a strip-mall restaurant is more likely to try daring ideas than is a restaurant in, say, a large shopping mall. The people with the best, most creative, most innovative cooking ideas are not always the people with the most money.

Many of White Flint’s strip malls will be redeveloped in the future. But there are a few ways to make new developments more affordable as well. One is by reducing excessive parking requirements. Like many places, Montgomery County requires a lot of parking to serve shops and restaurants, resulting in big, underused parking lots that take up space, or parking garages that are expensive to build. The county’s changing its zoning code to require much less parking, especially for restaurants. This will allow developers to build only the parking they need, reducing costs and making rents a little lower.

Another way is through smaller storefronts, as commercial space rents by the square foot. Many local businesses, particularly those with a small staff or inventory, don’t need a lot of space.

Take this gelato shop in Takoma Park, which opened earlier this year in 500 square feet, the size of a studio apartment. Much of that room goes to back-of-house functions, like a freezer and preparation area, leaving little room for customers. But that’s okay: in the summer, when lots of people want gelato, the line spills out the door because the weather’s nice. In the winter, there aren’t as many people who want gelato, so they can all fit inside.

Smaller storefronts also mean developers can host more of them, giving people more reasons to visit. At the Piazza at Schmidt’s, a mixed-use development in Philadelphia that’s pretty similar to many of the projects being proposed for White Flint, developer Bart Blatstein purposely divided his storefronts into tiny spaces that artists and entrepreneurs could afford. One gallery, boutique, or cafe would have been interesting enough, but instead, there are 35 establishments that you can’t find anywhere else.

More people means more customers for local companies

Density is another way for businesses to reduce their risk. The future White Flint will have more residents, meaning more customers for local businesses. And as Economist writer Ryan Avent notes, that gives them the chance to specialize and develop niche markets, which is exactly what unique local businesses are good for.

More density also means more foot traffic. “You can’t support the really small, local guys, especially in the fashion world or furniture . . . without foot traffic,” says Goldman. “People that literally live there or work there.” He cites his own neighborhood of Adams Morgan in DC as an example of a place where small businesses thrive. According to the US Census, Adams Morgan has a population density of about 30,000 per square mile, four times the current density of White Flint.

As White Flint grows and matures, it’s likely that local businesses will follow. Not only will there be more people living and working here, but shop and restaurant owners will know what to expect. Goldman predicts that in the “second generation of leasing,” as business turn over and new storefronts open in White Flint, we’ll see more locals.

Goldman uses Bethesda Row, another Federal Realty project, as an example. “We’ve got a proven track record where anyone can say, ‘These sales are amazing,'” Goldman says. “I know if I go there, I’m not going to lose my shirt. I’m going to do well.”

Local businesses make White Flint what it is and will help the area craft a new, unique identity as it grows and evolves. However, it’s important to make sure they have a place in the future White Flint as well. Through zoning, design, and manageable rental rates, we can ensure that local businesses can keep contributing to this community.

You’re Invited to Learn More About Rapid Transit on MD 355!

Please join us for a community discussion about the proposed Rapid Transit Network in Montgomery County and, specifically, about the MD 355 Corridor.

postcard-355-invite

 

355 Rapid Transit Roundtable

An educational community discussion about Montgomery County’s proposed Rapid Transit System for stakeholders along the 355 corridor.

Thursday, October 3 | 6:00 PM | Cafeteria of the Executive Office Building, 101 Monroe Street, Rockville, MD (Metro: Rockville)

Click here to RSVP>>>

As population and traffic continue to rise, how can we design the 355 corridor to move more people and connect our communities all the way from Friendship Heights to Clarksburg? Join residents, local businesses, institutions, and stakeholders of all kinds to learn about the County’s Rapid Transit proposal, get your questions answered by County officials, and engage in a collaborative discussion about Rapid Transit and other solutions for turning 355 into a safe, sustainable, multimodal boulevard of the future.

Speakers: Casey Anderson, Montgomery County Planning Board, Larry Cole, Montgomery County Planning Department, Chuck Lattuca, Rapid Transit System Development Manager for MCDOT.

This event is co-sponsored and facilitated by Coalition for Smarter Growth and Communities for Transit.  Our co-hosts include Montgomery County Sierra Club, TAME Coalition, the White Flint Partnership, and Friends of White Flint.

P.S. – The public record on the proposed bus rapid transit network closes TODAY at 5pm! Make sure you get your voice heard! Our friends at the Coalition for Smarter Growth created a form with sample comments you can access here.

Breathe easier during your commute

The D.C. area is ranked first in traffic congestion, and unfortunately, a recent study from MIT reports that Maryland deaths related to long-term exposure to air pollution are the highest in the U.S. The Capital News Service reports that:

“Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that emissions from cars, trucks, industrial smokestacks, trains, boats, and commercial heating systems contribute to the death of 113 people per 100,000 population per year in Maryland—more than any other state.”

Personal vehicles are a major contributor to greenhouse gasses, and the problem is only going to get worse as traffic in our area grows.

However, now is your chance to invest in a healthier future for Maryland and Montgomery County, by telling the County Council you support Bus Rapid Transit. Our friends at the Coalition for Smarter Growth have made it easy for you to write to them here. Don’t delay – the public record closes tomorrow, Friday, September 27.

Bus Rapid Transit Makes Economic Sense

This week, the Montgomery County Council is holding public hearings on the proposed Bus Rapid Transit Network.  We’ve been talking about the potential of this project for months and, now, a study shows that bus rapid transit ignites development better than other transit modes.

As reported in Forbes Magazine, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy studied Bus Rapid Transit, light rail and streetcars to establish which spur the greater amount of development.  Both because BRT is the least expensive of these options, and because of their frequent stops and reliability, Bus Rapid Transit best leverages development and produces sizable economic returns on investment.

The Institute warns, however, that these results come from authentic BRT lines – seven of which exist in the US (Cleveland, Las Vegas, Eugene OR, and several in Pittsburgh).  Nevertheless, none reach the international “gold standard” of BRT. “Though many projects in the United States have been described as BRT, many have only one or two features of BRT, and really are only enhanced bus lines,” the head of the Institute says.  This is what we’re trying to avoid in White Flint – a rapid transit system that qualifies in name only.  By doing it right, Montgomery County will be poised for success.

Read the Forbes piece here.  The full report will be available September 27th.

Want to see this kind of investment in our area? Now’s your chance to write to the County Council! Our friends at the Coalition for Smarter Growth have made it easy for you to write to them here. Don’t delay – the public record closes this Friday, September 27.

Sport & Health Club Coming to Pike & Rose

BethesdaNow.com is reporting that Pike & Rose’s latest offering is a 32,000 square foot gym at the corner of Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike.  Sport & Health Clubs have announced that their newest home will be in White Flint and will “include a yoga studio, group cycle studio, elevated outdoor social and training space, a cardio fitness floor and interactive video games for kids.”

The club is scheduled to open, along with most of Pike & Rose‘s first phase, in the fall of 2014.

Can Wall Park become more than a parking lot?

Wednesday night, representatives from Montgomery Parks led a community discussion about how to renovate Wall Park. While some residents were concerned about losing parking spaces and impacts to the Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center, others were excited about the park’s potential.

Residents vote for things they'd like to see at Wall Park. Photo by the author.

Residents vote for things they’d like to see at Wall Park. Photo by the author.

Today, the 11-acre park is home to the Shriver Aquatic Center, a small playground, a stand of trees, and a big parking lot. Planning for a new Wall Park began with the White Flint Sector Plan in 2010, which recommended making it a major outdoor gathering place.

From a parking lot to a “great lawn”

The renovation of Wall Park would happen over two phases. First, the parking lot would become what Montgomery Parks project coordinator Rachel Davis Newhouse called a “great lawn” with space for events, festivals, and smaller, informal gatherings. Developer Gables Residential would build a new, 900-space parking garage behind the aquatic center in conjunction with an apartment complex they plan to build on a property just north of the park.

The parking lot at Wall Park could become more green space. Image from Montgomery Parks.

400 of the spaces would be set aside for park and aquatic center users, compared to 260 spaces today. Accessible parking and the drop-off loop would stay where they are now.

“It just makes sense to build that all as one parking structure,” Newhouse said. “You save money to do all that at once and then it’s done.”

In the second phase, the park would be fully built out as a regional outdoor destination. The “great lawn” could get a stage and a small amphitheatre, allowing it to host live performances. Movable seating, shelters and picnic areas, could accommodate smaller gatherings.

There could also be a number of new additions, including an expanded playground, a skate park, a dog park, and a “splash zone” similar to the fountains in downtown Silver Spring and Rockville Town Square. Newhouse is also exploring food and drink options, like a park cafe and food trucks. And a “walkway to freedom” would connect the park to Josiah Henson Park, located across Old Georgetown Road, with interpretive signage and a museum kiosk.

Meanwhile, the Recreation Department wants to expand the 44,000-square-foot aquatic center, which is already the county’s busiest pool. Officials are also considering building a new recreation center alongside it, noting that the nearest facilities are the Bauer Drive Recreation Center in Rockville and the Jane Lawton Recreation Center in Chevy Chase, both of which are five miles away.

“Rather than building new, freestanding recreation centers, we’re trying to take advantage of what we already have,” says Gabe Albornoz, director of the Montgomery County Department of Recreation. The new facilities would wrap around the existing aquatic center. Albornoz expects that construction would last about 18 to 24 months, which may disrupt activities at the aquatic center.

Concerns about losing parking, safety

Newhouse gave everyone stickers, asking them to vote on what they’d like to see in the park. But many people in attendance said they didn’t want anything at all. Residents had concerns about construction disrupting the aquatic center, traffic from new park visitors, and the “environmental impacts” of removing the parking lot.

gables typical upper level plan

Plan of the proposed Gables apartment complex, including the parking garage it’ll share with Wall Park. Image from Gables.

Meanwhile, several parents of swimmers at the aquatic center worried about the loss of free parking and safety in the parking garage. One parent who lives “one mile away” in Luxmanor said she drives her kids to and from Shriver “8 times a day, 7 days a week.”

“I’m tired of parking being taken away,” she said. “I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t go to Bethesda, I don’t go to Rockville. It’s not fun sitting in traffic.”

Albornoz insisted that the parking would be free for aquatic center visitors, perhaps by using validated tickets, like at the Rockville Library. He also said that the aquatic center could add a second, rear entrance to the aquatic center to reduce the walk from the parking garage.

Paul Meyer, member of the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee, proposed a covered, lighted walkway similar to the one between the Music Center at Strathmore and the parking garage at the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station. “Nothing’s totally safe, but you can make it pretty safe,” Meyer said.

“We need this kind of amenity”

Meyer noted that several thousand new homes are being built in White Flint and will need amenities to serve them, like those proposed at Wall Park. Meanwhile, the developers of those new homes are being taxed to pay for those amenities. “I think we’re thinking of this as a single property,” he said. “It’s a piece of a puzzle. A small piece.”

One resident of the Georgetown Village condominium says that the park will give kids in White Flint much-needed places to play. “We’ve been fighting tooth and nail for more playgrounds,” he said. “We need this kind of amenity . . . I know people are frustrated with a lot of aspects of this, but I’m looking forward to it. It can’t be built fast enough.”

There are still a lot of questions with the Wall Park plan. There’s no cost estimate yet, and there’s no final design, so it’s unclear how the aquatic center will be affected during construction.

But that’s no reason for people to automatically reject the idea of making a better park, especially one that will benefit many people in White Flint. People often complain there isn’t enough open space in Montgomery County’s urban areas, and renovating Wall Park is an opportunity to create more of it.

The Montgomery County Planning Board will review a preliminary concept for Wall Park in conjunction with designs for the Gables project at a meeting on Thursday, October 24. Depending on when the Western Workaround gets built, construction on the parking garage and apartments could start by “mid-2015 at best,” according to Eddie Meder, development associate at Gables Residential, meaning that work on the park could soon follow.

Support Friends of White Flint, Get Paladar Latin Kitchen!

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Giving Has Never Tasted So Good!

Now is the time to support the work of Friends of White Flint and get something in return!  

Paladar Latin Kitchen is White Flint’s newest restaurant and offers fresh, exciting food and drink options for your whole family.  Through October 8th, this community partner will make your dinner dollars go even farther.

If you donate $25 to support the work of Friends of White Flint, Paladar will send you a gift certificate worth $25.  That’s it!  Learn more at PaladarLatinKitchen.com/donations and donate right from our homepage at WhiteFlint.org.  We will track the donations and, when the promotion ends, Paladar will mail you a gift card worth $25.

The new White Flint will be a great community, especially if we continue attracting businesses like Paladar.  Please support us both by donating today!

Hope I run into you enjoying mojitos and guacamole!

Agenda for FoWF’s 9/19/13 Meeting

Friends of White Flint’s next Board Meeting, which is open to all and is the forum where we do much of our work, is this Thursday, September 19th, at 6:30pm at the offices of Shulman Rogers in Park Potomac.  Minutes from our last meeting can be reviewed by clicking here.  To attend the meeting, RSVPs are encouraged, but not required, by emailing info@whiteflint.org.   If you have something you’d like added to the agenda, please email me directly at Lindsay.Hoffman@whiteflint.org.  See you Thursday!

Friends of White Flint

 

Better ways to get to school: are we there yet?

Part of Reconnecting America’s report Are We There Yet? sheds light on how children (and their parents) get to daycare and school, and the ramifications of these options – or lack thereof. In a section titled “Safe Routes to School,” the authors explain that only 13 percent of children walk or bike to school today, compared to nearly 50% in 1969; parents cited schools being far away, traffic safety, and crime as major concerns. The authors highlight many serious repercussions of children no longer walking or biking to school:

“Obesity among children has tripled over the last two decades, and more than 20 percent of morning traffic is generated by parents driving kids to school. The combined emissions from all those cars and school buses adds up to the single greatest cause of pollution in many cities.”

The report points out that some communities are working to change the way kids get to school.

“At the Bear Creek Elementary School in Boulder, Colorado, Principal Kent Cruger serves as inspiration, arriving at school via foot-powered scooter, skateboard or unicycle — to cite a few of his choices — when he isn’t carpooling. The number of students now regularly walking and biking has risen by 30 percent, with a corresponding 30 percent reduction in traffic counts. At the Green Street School in Brattleboro, Vermont, the number of “walking school buses” — groups of children are accompanied by adults on the walk to school, picking up students along the way — and “bicycle trains” have tripled. A public outreach effort to reduce speeds around this school, just outside downtown, has resulted in a 40 percent reduction in the number of cars speeding through the school zone.

Due to increased interest in walking and biking in Auburn Washington, the Auburn School District has been able to reduce the number of school buses from six to one, resulting in an annual savings of $220,000. At Pioneer Elementary in Auburn, 85 percent of students walk or bike on a regular basis and they receive the highest academic scores in the district, which Principal Debra Gary attributes to their healthy, active lifestyles.”

In addition to walking and biking, transit can also play a big role in how children get to daycare and preschool:

“Quality preschools and daycare facilities in high-access locations have proven to be a real benefit to harried parents dropping kids off on their way to work. A study by Local Investment in Child Care, a California nonprofit organization, finds that locating childcare facilities within a third of a mile of transit results in high ridership by families: 34 percent of people dropping their children off then walked or used transit to commute to their destination, with even higher numbers in low-income areas.

Childcare facilities not only provide an essential service to families but they can also serve as ‘anchor tenants’ in a development that can provide other needed shops and services that serve families.”

Creating more pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly, and transit-oriented neighborhoods means that children and those who take care of them will have more options when deciding how to get to school, which would likely lead to healthier children and a healthier planet. Check out Reconnecting America’s blog post on childcare and transit for more information.