ULI Washington recently released a Technical Assistance Panelreport documenting existing challenges and recommendations for the future of Rockville Town Center, in the City of Rockville, Maryland. Rockville is a 13.5 square mile city of nearly 70,000 residents located in south-central Montgomery County, Maryland, approximately twelve miles northwest of Washington D.C.
Rockville Town Center is approximately 200 acres in land area, generally bounded by properties along Fleet Street to the south, S. and N. Washington Street along the west, and the railroad tracks on the east. The area is developed with a mix of uses that include office, retail, residential, hotels, government and cultural uses. Just to the south of the study area is the 2,500-student Richard Montgomery High School, whose students are regular customers to the Town Center merchants. A half-mile north of Town Center is the 15,000-student Rockville campus of Montgomery College. In total, about 4,500 people live in Town Center, while approximately 20,000 work there.
Town Center is the heart of the Rockville community and the seat of Montgomery County government. Envisioned as a vibrant downtown, public and private investments have resulted in new streets, a public plaza, a regional library, multiple courthouses, residences, office and parking garages. With a Red Line Metro station, multiple bus lines, and both an Amtrak and MARC stop, Rockville Town Center is accessible by transit and a regional hub. Both the City of Rockville and private businesses sponsor events, festivals and other activities to encourage visits. While events are very well attended, the retail environment and office investment remain less than what Rockville has envisioned. Retail closures and sub-par performance remain a great challenge, especially in the Town Square portion between East Middle Lane and Beall Avenue. Furthermore, Town Center office lease rates have not been high enough to attract non-incentivized investments in new office projects, despite a broad trend for office space to be near transit and urban amenities, both of which are in Town Center.
Technical Assistance Panels, or TAPs, provide expert, multidisciplinary advice to public agencies and private sector clients facing complex land use and real estate issues in the Metropolitan Washington Region. Over the course of two days, a team of ten ULI members endeavored to understand the Town Center’s existing challenges. The Panel’s goal was to assist the City of Rockville in the following areas:
Suggest design actions that the City could take to improve the urban environment, and methods to attract and retain new uses in Rockville Town Center.
Determine the area demographics and income profiles that will be attracted to existing and new retail/restaurant/entertainment sectors in Town Center; and the types of uses that will serve this population.
Identify the Town Center’s retail competition and determine how the Town Center can be differentiated from its competition.
Determine if the development density and land use mix, both – existing and expected, are sufficient to support a strong retail environment.
Identify the jurisdictional policy obstacles to retail success in Town Center.
Panelists grouped their analysis and recommendations into four categories: contextualizing Rockville; retail strategy & design; organizing stakeholders; and urgent steps and prioritization. They elaborated on the next steps for the City and community in three different categories – urgent, strengthen and maturation. They further shared a list of actionable items towards the future transformation and success of retail in the Town Center. Some of the actionable items are listed below, and further details and additional items can be found in the report.
Retain significant employers.
Build density in the Town Center without compromising character.
Strengthen relationships among property owners, government and business within the Town Center area including Montgomery College and the Montgomery County Board of Education.
Hire a parking consultant.
The TAP was chaired by David Kitchens, Principal of Cooper Carry. Members of the Panel included: Andrew K. Brown, Stanford Properties LC; Chad Shuskey, Washington DC Economic Partnership; Katie Bucklew, EDENS; Kaushambi Shah, local Urban Designer; Matt Clark, LandDesign; Sophie Barral, Rosslyn BID; Suzette Goldstein, HOK; Jill Hunger, Arlington Economic Development; and Walter Ploskon, Niles Bolton Associates.