Friends of White Flint and the Pike District is in the NY Times

Friends of White Flint and the Pike District is in the NY Times

Check out this terrific article about the Pike District in the New York Times.  Friends of White Flint, Pike and Rose, the Gables, and East Village are all mentioned in the article.  Don’t want to click through to read the piece? We’ve included it below.

NORTH BETHESDA, Md. — Congested and derided, the Rockville Pike thoroughfare, which connects Bethesda and Rockville, troubled local residents, officials and developers for years.

“I’ve lived in this area most of my life, and people would ask where I was from,” said Amy Ginsburg, executive director of Friends of White Flint. “I wasn’t really from Rockville, and I wasn’t really from Bethesda. There was no sense of place, just shopping centers and horrible traffic up and down the pike.”

Her organization, a nonprofit funded by residents, businesses and property owners, promotes so-called smart-growth development. The movement generally advocates a mix of land uses, higher building density and walkable neighborhoods close to public transit to create stronger communities.

Aiming to bring better-planned growth to the area, Montgomery County adopted the White Flint Sector Plan six years ago. The plan, which took its name from the nearby White Flint Metro rail stop, called for smarter growth and the building of pedestrian-minded urban nodes along a 1.7-mile stretch of Rockville Pike.

Now, at a major intersection here, Federal Realty Investment Trust has begun the task of transforming a suburban corridor that has long struggled to establish an identity.

 A publicly traded real estate investment trust based in Rockville, Federal Realty is putting the final touches on the roughly $270 million first phase of Pike & Rose, a multistory development of brick and stone at the northwest corner of Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road that began opening in 2014.

Meeting Street at the intersection with Rockville Pike, in the Pike & Rose development. An REI store is going up on the left, and to the right completed retail outlets include Chipotle and Starbucks. CreditJustin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

The project contains a mix of apartments, retailers, offices and parking garages around new streets, fountains and public gathering spots. A second phase, costing some $205 million, is underway that will roughly double the project’s size.

Pike & Rose is replacing an old 280,000-square-foot shopping center surrounded by surface parking. As much as 3.4 million square feet could be built on the parcel, just the type of density that the White Flint plan envisioned.

Traffic is still bad up and down Rockville Pike. But under the long-range White Flint plan, developers and county officials intend to slim the road into a less-traveled, tree-lined boulevard. New roads, to be built at a cost of $600 million, would foster public transportation, walking and cycling.

Officials anticipate that residential and business growth could generate some $7 billion in net economic activity over the next 30 years, said Roger Berliner, a member of the Montgomery County Council. Mr. Berliner himself moved into a top-floor apartment in the PerSei building at Pike & Rose.

“It’s all right here, and every demographic wants it,” said Mr. Berliner, motioning to the urbanlike surroundings during a lunch at the California-themed Summer House Santa Monica in Pike & Rose. “So if we can enhance the quality of life and create a $7 billion benefit, the White Flint plan will be a big success story for our county.”

Two years ago, backers of the White Flint plan branded the area the Pike District to highlight the corridor’s changing character.

Already, office workers and residents are venturing across Rockville Pike on foot to visit Pike & Rose restaurants and tenants like iPic Theaters or the concert hall AMP. Walking had been such an alien concept in the area that a pedestrian safety campaign began last month to prevent accidents.

Block 7 of the Pike & Rose development will house retail on the ground floor with a Hilton hotel and luxury condominiums above. CreditJustin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

“We do believe that Pike & Rose will be the anchor of the Pike District,” said Chris Weilminster, executive vice president of Federal Realty’s mixed-use division. “We sit in a really nice position at the top of a hill, and we’re setting a high level of expectation in regard to the merchandising and retailers.”

Pike & Rose’s 160,000 square feet of retail space is fully occupied, as are its 80,000 square feet of offices. Condominiums, apartments and a Hilton Canopy Hotel are part of the second phase, which will begin opening in late 2017 or early 2018. Among the tenants signed to occupy the development are REI, the retailer of outdoor gear; Pinstripes, a restaurant and entertainment venue; and a Porsche dealership.

The project’s apartments are currently 93 percent occupied, but rental rates in some cases have fallen short of what was originally anticipated, according to comments made by Federal Realty’s chief executive, Donald C. Wood, during earnings conference calls this year.

Mr. Wood blamed an overhang of new apartment supply in the area and the nuisance of continuing construction at the site for the shortfall. But an average rental rate of about $2.40 a square foot in its Pallas apartment building still represents a roughly 20 percent premium to the market, he told analysts.

“The reality is that there’s more apartment supply in the market than we’d like, but long term we’re very bullish,” Mr. Weilminster said. “It’s only going to get better with time.”

A handful of other developers have lined up mixed-use proposals in the White Flint plan area that in coming years could add some 5,000 residential units, 1.2 million square feet of office space and 1.6 million square feet of retail space. Most call for new apartment buildings with bottom-floor retail space, as well as green space or other recreational elements.

Foulger-Pratt and ProMark Real Estate Services plan to break ground next year on a project that will add 614 apartments and 38,000 square feet of retail space over two phases about a half mile south of Pike & Rose. Likewise, in early 2017, Gables Residential expects to begin construction of more than 400 apartments in three buildings and 24,000 square feet of retail space to the immediate south of Pike & Rose.

The bar at City Perch, a restaurant in the Pike & Rose development. Credit Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

Jorgen Punda, Gables’ regional vice president for investments for Boston and metropolitan Washington, predicted that new apartment supply should begin to tail off in 2018 as the company prepares to open its development. He also suggested that Pike & Rose provided a glimpse of Rockville Pike’s live, work and play potential.

“I think we’re at the beginning stages of a transformation,” he said. “A number of office users and residents in the area are finding the new walkable amenities to be a benefit.”

A $31 million judgment in August 2015 against Lerner Enterprises, the owner of the former White Flint Mall, has put one big proposed mixed-use project down the road in limbo, however. After the White Flint plan was adopted, Lerner emptied and razed most of the 800,000-square-foot mall to make way for a huge mixed-use project that it planned to develop on the site.

But Lord & Taylor, a mall tenant that still operates on the otherwise vacant parcel, sued Lerner, claiming that it failed to keep a 1975 agreement to essentially operate the property as a mall until the department store’s lease expired in 2042. An appeals hearing is scheduled for late October.

Weak office demand in suburban Montgomery County has also influenced development decisions. JBG Companies scuttled plans for an office building and added more apartments to its proposed mixed-use project in the area, for example.

But landing a plum office tenant like Marriott International, the hotel operator, could help recast the Pike District as a preferred office destination, Mr. Berliner and Ms. Ginsburg said.

Marriott’s headquarters now occupy 900,000 square feet a few miles south. It is looking for a new location and wants to be within walking distance of the Metro and amenities. Developers and officials in other Maryland markets, and in Washington and Virginia, are also courting the company.

“If Marriott doesn’t move here, it won’t break us,” Ms. Ginsburg said on a late summer morning in a Pike & Rose coffee shop. “But it will make us if they do.”

Amy Ginsburg


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