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.

BF Saul presents improved design for Metro Pike Center

BF Saul proposes a pedestrian plaza along the west side of Rockville Pike.

BF Saul proposes a pedestrian plaza along the west side of Rockville Pike.

After public outcry over their earlier proposal, developer BF Saul is back with a new design for a mixed-use complex that will replace the Metro Pike Center shopping center and Staples at the intersection of Rockville Pike and Nicholson Lane. Over 60 people came to the monthly White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee meeting at the Shriver Aquatic Center to see it, though concerns remain about how the pedestrian-friendly the new buildings will be.

The Bethesda-based developer first revealed their plans to build 5 towers containing 1.4 million square feet of housing and 200,000 square feet of office and retail space on the combined 12-acre site in May. Residents complained that there was little street-level retail, discouraging people from walking around.

This time, however, 4 of the 5 towers will have ground-floor shops and restaurants, putting it along both sides of Rockville Pike and parts of Marinelli Road and Nicholson Lane. The developers hope this will create more sidewalk activity.

“We received a lot of good, constructive criticism about how to activate those public spaces,” said lawyer Robert Dalrymple from Linowes and Blocher. “One of the best ways to do that is through street level retail, which we are proposing.”

Site plan of BF Saul's proposal to replace Metro Pike Center with 5 mixed-use towers.

Site plan of BF Saul’s proposal to replace Metro Pike Center with 5 mixed-use towers.

BF Saul proposes creating a grand promenade along the west side of Rockville Pike, complimenting a linear park on the east side above the Red Line, which runs so close to the surface that buildings can’t be built directly above it. It will contain a plaza with fountains, gardens, trees, benches for sitting and gathering, and outdoor seating for restaurants.

The promenade will have an “active, lively urbane” feel, “attracting people to come and encouraging them to linger,” says Michael Vergason, landscape architect. It will get wider closer to the Metro, taking advantage of a high point on Rockville Pike with long views.

Beyond the plaza will be 2 300-foot residential towers closer to the White Flint Metro station that share underground parking. A third, 200-foot office tower closer to Nicholson Lane will sit atop a “podium” of parking that will make it appear taller.

In keeping with the White Flint Sector Plan’s call for a new street grid, BF Saul will extend Woodglen Drive north from Nicholson to Marinelli, with 2 smaller streets linking it to Rockville Pike. Woodglen will be lined with street trees and apartments with “real doors,” giving it a quiet, residential feel while masking the above-ground parking garages.

“There are going to be steps and stoops and pots and plants to make Woodglen a nice residential street,” says Daniel Ashtary, architect with Silver Spring-based Torti Gallas and Partners, who is also designing the Gables development next to Wall Park.

On the east side, there will be 2 residential towers measuring 300 and 240 feet tall with underground parking surrounding a shared driveway. A new street will run behind them, connecting the Pike to Citadel Avenue.

Residents had many questions about traffic, pedestrian safety, and the need for larger, family-sized apartments in the area. One man asked if current businesses, like Staples and Kinko’s, will be able to come back after the shopping center is demolished.

Brian Downie, Senior Vice President of Development for BF Saul, didn’t rule it out but said the new development will emphasize more restaurants “because that’s what activates the street.”

Neighboring property owners expressed concerns about the extension of Woodglen Drive, which would connect this project to JBG’s North Bethesda Market to the south and Federal Realty’s Pike + Rose to the north.

“It’s a really important street,” added Evan Goldman of Federal Realty. “I’d like to see some focus on that.” He recommended that BF Saul work with the Grand Apartments, which is directly behind their project, to nudge Woodglen to the west so it could connect with streets in Pike + Rose.

Greg Trimmer of JBG suggested making the promenade a little narrower and giving the extra width to Woodglen so it could accommodate wider bike lanes or sidewalks. This would also make the promenade more attractive to retailers. In downtown Silver Spring, there’s no shortage of empty retail spaces behind gorgeous pocket parks, simply because the distance from the street discourages pedestrians from walking over.

However, the new design has promise, and it’ll be exciting to see how it continues to evolve. Downie says the “market will dictate” when construction begins. BF Saul will file a sketch plan with the Montgomery County Planning Board later this summer; if the approval process goes smoothly, construction could begin within 2 years, and the first building could open within 5 years.

Countdown to Guac and Mojitos

paladar

The fuschia banners appeared at the corner of Woodglen and Executive, just across from Whole Foods, while the weather was still cold.  “The guac & mojitos arrive this summer,” they announced – and the excitement they’ve generated has continued to build.

Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar is the brainchild of Co-Presidents Andy Himmel and Elie Weiss.  After trying their hand at a blues/jazz restaurant concept in their hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, they decided to shift gears.  They sought something unique that would offer a downtown experience in the suburbs and found themselves drawn to the flavors of Latin America.  The first Paladar opened in August 2007 and, since then, locations have sprouted in South Florida and Annapolis and more are expected in this region over the next year.

Lots of {delicious} eggs in this basket

But, this is still a small company and Himmel acknowledges that he is putting a lot of eggs in White Flint’s basket.  His team was drawn to this area because Montgomery County is an economic “powerhouse” with “sophistication and education.”  With a goal to earn regulars, Paladar will offer a fantastic experience with great energy at an exceptional value.  White Flint, particularly as it undergoes redevelopment, is a natural fit for such an exciting concept.

2013.04.16 Exterior rendering

Paladar is investing nearly $2.5 million in the location’s build-out, which is ongoing.  For the first time, the company has hired a design firm for guidance and Himmel sounded pleased with how it’s coming together.  He described features including cedar planks, distressed mirrors and interesting tile.  The two outdoor patios will take advantage of the increasing walkability of our area.  The patio along Executive Boulevard will feature large planter boxes separating pedestrians from the first-come, first-served diners lounging at high tops and other soft seating.  A dining patio on Woodglen will include unique hanging planters.  All told, the restaurant will seat about 180, plus another 60 in the bar.

Visitors need not always walk to Paladar.  Free parking will be available everyday after 5pm, and all day on the weekends, in the surface parking lot on the other side of Woodglen!  Valet will also be available, at least to start.

The focus is the food

Guac Trio 1

Guacamole Trio

Himmel’s mantra is that the “focus is the food.”  With a user-friendly menu available in full throughout the restaurant and bar, Paladar will be open for lunch, happy hour, dinner, late night and Sunday brunch.  Favorites include Latin staples like ropa vieja, braised beef and duck confit tacos and their signature guacamole served with yucca, plantain, malanga and tortilla chips.  But the menu is broad enough that even frequent visitors will not get bored — salads, sandwiches, wraps, fresh seafood, steaks and chops.  Even the kids’ menu offers a Mini-Cuban Sandwich.  Brunch might be best enjoyed with an unlimited mimosa!

Fish Tacos 1Fish Tacos

Grilled Skirt Steak 1Grilled Skirt Steak

Although the focus is the food, Paladar does put a lot of attention into its bar offerings.  The Rum Bar will offer a selection of over 50 rums.  Rum flights and tasting pours will be offered alongside hand-muddled Mojitos and Caipirinhas, as well as freshly prepared Margaritas.

Hospitality is tops

Paladar takes pride in its hospitality and the offering of surprising experiences.  To that end, they’re bringing their “A-team” to the White Flint location.  Executive Chef Joe Tis has been honing his skills at the Annapolis Paladar and is geared up to open this new location.  General Manager Angel Briscoe has been in our area for a long time and is excited about the vibrancy and ambiance of Paladar.  She loves that the brand is family-friendly and that diners can feel the “warmth from the sidewalk in.”  Keep an eye out for Joe and Angel when you visit!  Or, consider joining their team.  Paladar is hiring now for our location; learn more online or by walking into their temporary office next to the construction on Woodglen.

Feed More than Yourself at the Grand Opening

Paladar is set to open on Thursday, August 15th, with a ribbon-cutting at 6pm.  The real fun begins after that when Paladar will host a special dinner featuring selections from their menu for a flat $40 per person.  The most amazing part?  Every dime of that will benefit Montgomery County’s own Manna Food Center.  For more information or for reservations, contact Paladar at 301-816-1100 between 9am and 6pm on weekdays.  For more information, please contact Mark Foraker, Manna’s Director of Development, at 301-424-1130 or mark@mannafood.org.

What a phenomenal way to join our community – we look forward to many years of success!  And, mojitos!

** Updated on July 10th to reflect new contact information for information and reservations for the Paladar Grand Opening.

Check Out What’s Coming to White Flint!

Are you curious what’s coming to our redeveloped White Flint?  Hoping for a one-stop opportunity to see some of the latest plans?  Then join Friends of White Flint on Tuesday morning, April 30th, from 9:30-10:30am for a Showcase of Upcoming Projects.  

We’re taking over the Whole Foods cafe and giving you an opportunity to take a look at a handful of projects planned in and around the new White Flint and meet the folks behind the ideas.  This casual event will have no structured program, just come and take a look at your leisure!

Many thanks to our great friends at:

wholefoods

 

Seasons 52 Celebrates the Newest White Flint-er

When you’re building something as exciting as White Flint, visitors will go to great lengths to check it out!  Even if that means coming  all the way from… the womb?

A few weeks ago, the Kambanis family was dining at Seasons 52 when their newest addition decided to check out the hype.  Mom Kristelle was rushed from the restaurant mid-dinner to deliver a beautiful and healthy baby boy.   A few nights after leaving the hospital, the family returned to Seasons 52 where they were greeted warmly by staff.   “Seasons celebrated their return (and addition to the family) with a nice card and meal and some other goodies,” glows uncle Geordan Harris.

photo 3

photo 1

Welcome to White Flint, baby Robert!  And, welcome to our community, Seasons 52!

photo 2

 

See White Flint grow over time

Today, White Flint is a regional employment and shopping destination. Tomorrow, it could be a new downtown for Montgomery County. But just a few decades ago, White Flint was just a rural crossroads. Using aerial photos from Google Earth and the county’s Geographic Information Services, or GIS software, we can track the development of White Flint over time. (You can click any of the images to make them bigger.)

1951

Image from Montgomery County GIS.

Image from Montgomery County GIS.

In 1951, White Flint was mostly forests and farms between the bustling towns of Bethesda and Rockville. Suburban development was just beginning to reach the area; in this photo, Garrett Park Estates was still being built, while Luxmanor had already been established for over a decade. And, of course, Dietle’s Tavern had just opened.

1970

Image from Montgomery County GIS.

Image from Montgomery County GIS.

By the 1970’s, White Flint had become a bedroom community, with several subdivisions under construction and new schools, including Tilden Middle School and Woodward High. Strip malls began opening along Rockville Pike, including Mid-Pike Plaza and Loehmann’s Plaza, as new roads like Executive Boulevard, Nebel Street and Parklawn Drive opened to serve them. The Forum opened, making it the first of many high-rise residential buildings to be built in White Flint.

1979

Image from Montgomery County GIS.

Image from Montgomery County GIS.

By 1979, White Flint had become a regional shopping and employment destination. White Flint Mall had opened two years earlier, while organizations like the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) set up offices on Rockville Pike. Residential development in the area was now predominantly townhouses and garden-style condominiums, as you can see south of Nicholson Lane.

1988

Image from Google Earth.

Image from Google Earth.

By 1988, the White Flint Metro station was 4 years old, carrying commuters to Bethesda and into the District. Woodward High School closed the year earlier and Tilden Middle School took over its building, leaving its original site as a holding center for other schools. Most of White Flint’s main streets had been completed, and the road network looks more or less like it does today.

2002

Image from Google Earth.

Image from Google Earth.

During the 1990’s, White Flint continued to grow. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission opened their offices on Rockville Pike, and the Forum was joined by additional luxury high-rises, like the Grand and the Wisconsin.

2007

Image from Google Earth.

Image from Google Earth.

A lot changed between 2002 and 2007. After years of debate, the Montrose Parkway was finally under construction; the Bethesda North Conference Center opened, and the first phase of North Bethesda Center was under construction.

2012

Image from Google Earth.

Image from Google Earth.

In this image taken last year, we can see the White Flint envisioned in the Sector Plan taking shape. Montrose Parkway opened in 2009. Wentworth House, the first building at North Bethesda Center, was completed and a second building is under construction. The first phase of North Bethesda Market is open, replacing the humble Park Inn and giving White Flint the county’s tallest building. Mid-Pike Plaza has given way to Pike + Rose, the first phase of which should open in 2014. And further south, the ASHA headquarters has been replaced by Symphony Park, a high-end townhouse development.

Yet even as some things change, some stay the same. Georgetown Prep is there as it’s been for almost a century, and Hank Dietle’s Tavern is still serving beer up the street.

Are there any changes we’ve missed? What things are you glad have stuck around in White Flint? And what are you looking forward to in the future?

White Flint’s future is more than “hip”

White Flint today. Photo by the author.

Next week, the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Friends of White Flint are hosting a happy hour on how to “make the suburbs hip.” While that might conjure images of trying to jury-rig H Street on Rockville Pike, the transformation of White Flint goes much further than that. The redevelopment of strip malls and parking lots into real urban places has real social, economic and environmental benefits.

In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, Patrick Doherty argues that the United States must reorient itself and its built environment to meet the challenges of the 21st century and remain prosperous. This starts in places like White Flint.

Today’s White Flint was built around the social, economic and environmental conditions of the 20th century, among them a homogeneous society, cheap land and cheap energy. Tomorrow’s White Flint will need to accommodate very different circumstances: an increasingly diverse population, land constraints, climate change, and an eventual shift away from fossil fuels.

If done well, the future White Flint will encourage a greater sense of community through a strong public realm where people can gather, hang out and even protest. It will help meet the demand for housing, particularly the desire for smaller living spaces and urban amenities, while providing a base of customers and employees for local businesses. And it will allow us to accommodate a growing population while using less energy, fewer materials, and conserving precious agricultural and undisturbed land.

The challenges are great, but the potential is enormous. I look forward to seeing White Flint become not only a “hip” place to live, but an example for how the rest of the nation can improve their communities and prepare for the future.

I hope you’ll come out to our happy hour next Tuesday, January 29 at 5:30pm at Seasons 52, located at 11414 Rockville Pike, a short walk from the White Flint Metro station. Montgomery County Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Roger Berliner will be on hand to talk about the transformation of White Flint and it means for our community. You can click here to RSVP.