Sunday, February 19, 2012

Transforming White Flint

Intense redevelopment of White Flint is underway. New development is adding to a diverse mix of existing projects which include the Bethesda North Conference Center and Hotel, high-rise residential and office buildings, and existing diverse retail. Several new projects underway or recently completed include: North Bethesda Center with high-rise apartments, a Harris Teeter grocery, and a 14-story office building; and North Bethesda Market with new retail, restaurants, a Whole Foods grocery, and a 24-story apartment building - the tallest building in Montgomery County. The pace of redevelopment will accelerate over the next five years, further transforming White Flint.

Transforming White Flint into a vibrant new urban center will take great deal of effort and investment. Developers are investing millions in projects that will create new urban communities of homes, shops, and cafes. A new taxing district is funding strategic sections of the urban road network. Along with these substantial investments, White Flint will also need a coordinated and sustained branding and maintenance effort.

In Spring 2011, County Executive Ike Leggett established an ad hoc committee to bring together business, neighborhood, and government leaders to implement the Sector Plan recommendations for urban maintenance and promotions. Specific objectives of the Committee are to:
  • assist in planning for an urban services district
  • create a branding and marketing plan for White Flint
  • facilitate maintenance partnerships for existing and future streetscape
  • draft a plan for implementing urban services including funding options
  • initiate community-driven beautification projects
With support from the BCC Regional Services Center, the Committee is looking at a tiered implementation of an urban services district, with a long-term goal of creating a public-private corporation to manage services. (An example of such a corporation is the Bethesda Urban Partnership, which manages downtown Bethesda under contract with the BCC Regional Service Center.)  At this time White Flint lacks the funding mechanisms found in other County urban services districts (Bethesda, Silver Spring, Wheaton).  Bethesda is funded by a combination of an urban district tax and parking meter funds.  However, in White Flint there is little desire at this time for an additional urban tax and parking meter funds are very limited.

With these short-term challenges in mind, the Committee is currently focused on leveraging existing resources to meet two immediate priorities:
  1. Branding and Promotions – there is a need for a consolidated branding effort for White Flint and a portal for information - including news, existing retail; and development.
  2. Consistency of maintenance – there is a need for a plan to address maintenance and walkability in the core and unimproved “connector blocks”, particularly along Rockville Pike near Metro.
The Committee is advocating for pedestrian safety improvements along Rockville Pike near Metro and working with County DOT and State to improve sidewalk and road conditions. This summer the community will see the start of a State project to resurface Rockville Pike and improve ADA ramps at corners. The County will follow with work to repair sidewalks.

The Committee is exploring cost-effective measures to boost the appearance of White Flint in partnership with property owners. A plan for increased maintenance is being explored.

The Committee has endorsed the work of the White Flint property owners to create a unified brand for the new downtown. The White Flint Partnership has committed significant resources to the branding effort and has committed to consult with the Committee and general public during the process. The branding effort will lead to the creation of a downtown White Flint website.

The emergence of White Flint as a vibrant downtown will require considerable investment and coordination to ensure the area develops - not as a collection of islands of development - but as a walkable, attractive, and unified place. The steps taken by the Committee now are an essential component of realizing this vision.

anticipated urban center growth (MNCPPC, 2010)
Anticipated urban development in downtown areas (MNCPPC, Feb 2010)