2014 | Real Estate

Bethesda Study Finds Too Much Retail Space in Certain Downtown Districts

Woodmont Triangle in particular has more than 200,000 square feet of surplus retail space compared to demand

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via Streetsense Retail Study

There’s too much retail in Woodmont Triangle and poor quality retail near the Metro area, but an opportunity to bring new retail to Pearl Street in the western portion of Bethesda, according to a Streetsense study released Monday.

The study was commissioned by the Montgomery County Planning Department as part of its work to update the sector plan guiding development in downtown Bethesda.

Streetsense, a Bethesda-based consulting, marketing, planning and development firm, found that the most successful retail area is Bethesda Row because it offers parking, modern retail spaces, moderate traffic and a concentration of restaurants.

On the other side of town, the firm found that Woodmont Triangle, with its 161 retail spaces, has more than  200,000 square feet of surplus retail space compared to demand in the area. The findings may shed light on why several properties in the Woodmont area—ranging from the former Blackfinn restaurant space to new spaces at apartment buildings such as the Bainbridge Bethesda and Gallery Bethesda—remain vacant.

To fix the problem, Streetsense recommended concentrating high-quality retail space into a specific area and supplementing it with the “funky” stores that Woodmont Triangle is known for. In the Metro area, recommendations include keeping the same amount of space, but finding better quality retailers and making the store locations more appropriate to attract foot traffic and increase visibility.

The study also found that space dedicated to retail near the Metro outstrips demand by about 175,000 square feet. That area has two problems, according to Streetsense—traffic volumes on Wisconsin Avenue and Old Georgetown Road are “unavoidable obstacles” to making the roads into retail main streets, and interior and below-ground retail spaces in the Metro district do not attract the same visibility as those that line active streets.

As for areas primed for growth, the study identified Arlington South, Bethesda Row, the Pearl Street area and Wisconsin North as districts where retail demand will increase by 2034.

The study stressed that retail districts require a diversity of shopping and dining options, but warned that simply copying successful retail models in the same market, such as Bethesda Row, could cause “cannibalism and systemic failure.”


Bethesda Retail Study