A rendering of the proposed "woonerf" in the new project at Westfield Montgomery in Bethesda. Credit: Via Westfield

The owners of Westfield Montgomery mall are unveiling new development plans for the Bethesda property, a project that could add hundreds of new apartment units, high-end dining and shopping options and outdoor recreation areas.  

The proposal would span about 28 acres along Westlake Terrace, transforming the space currently occupied by the Sears store and auto center and surrounding surface parking. Jim Agliata, Westfield’s vice president of development, said the project represents the next phase of Westfield Montgomery’s emergence as a “lifestyle destination.”

In recent years, the mall’s owners have opened the ArcLight Cinemas, improved the food court and introduced Lucky Strike gastropub and bowling alley to the shopping complex. Now, Algiata said they’re ready to take Westfield Montgomery to the next level.

“The mall is at its high point for tenant sales, and it’s doing wonderfully, but what it lacks is those touch points and those areas for pedestrians to relax, those green areas,” he said. “This really brings Westfield Montgomery’s evolution to a new head.”

After a $90 million expansion completed in 2014, the mall’s food court was renovated into a dining terrace that opened with several new options for mall customers. The dining terrace has seen some turnover since then, including the closure of the 2016 MET Bethesda, a full-service restaurant that had opened two years earlier on the third floor. Several fast-casual restaurants that opened in 2014 have since closed while others have moved in.

Westfield representatives will be presenting their plans to the community Wednesday evening from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.

Site plan for the expansion of Westfield Montgomery mall (click to expand). Credit: Westfield.

The proposed development could yield about 670 apartment units and 300,000 square feet of new retail and hotel space. Algiata notes these numbers do not reflect the increased amount of density on the site, because some square footage will be lost when existing buildings are demolished.

He said the project will happen in stages, with the first focusing on building the Winter Garden complex on what is now the Sears site. The Winter Garden area will have about 170,000 square feet of retail space with about 350 to 360 new apartments above the shops, he said. Westfield also intends to build an adjoining retail space and health club concurrently. Later phases will provide roughly 130,000 more square feet of retail and hotel space and the remaining 300 apartment units.

Agliata said the proposal also calls for an open space in the Winter Garden area and another plaza called Heritage Court, which developers envision as the main hub for outdoor recreation. The plaza could accommodate an ice rink in the wintertime, for instance, and yoga classes in the warmer months.

A pedestrian-friendly, landscaped street called a “woonerf” will run through the site, separating the hotel and retail section and the creative office and retail.

While he doesn’t have any specific tenants to announce, Agliata said Westfield hopes to attract upscale establishments and mid-level luxury shops to the new community beside the mall. 

“We’ve done a great job for fast-casual, but what the center lacks is really fine dining,” he said. “We don’t have a nice steak venue. We don’t have upscale Italian or fish, so we’re really looking into bringing some fine-dining, chef-driven restaurant concepts that are not in the area right now,” he said.

Underground parking will serve all of the apartment communities, he said. 

The property owner is preparing to ask the Montgomery County Planning Board to approve a site plan amendment allowing Westfield to move forward with the project. He said the Sears is slated to close at the end of March 2019, and property owners hope to begin work on the first phase that year, possibly completing it in 2022.

The Winter Garden area of the proposed development (click to expand). Credit: Westfield.

Illustration of the Heritage Court area in the proposal (click to expand). Credit: Westfield.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com