Just like the greater community, developers can’t agree on what to call the emerging urban area between Rockville and Bethesda.
At the center of the debate is a disagreement among the area’s major developers, who are spending billions to transform the area surrounding the White Flint Metro station on Rockville Pike.
Essentially, Lerner Enterprises likes the name White Flint, while The JBG Companies and Federal Realty Investment Trust want a new name for the emerging downtown district.
Evan Goldman, the vice president of development for Federal Realty who is managing the company’s massive Pike & Rose project, said too many people only associate the name White Flint with the mall.
“We want this whole area to be amazing,” Goldman said. “But it’s not going to happen for a while, and in the meantime we need a story that goes beyond the mall.”
The area currently goes by several names, including North Bethesda and White Flint, but parts of it have Kensington and Rockville ZIP codes. County officials are also considering whether to include the area around the Twinbrook Metro station as part of the development district, which may also warrant a new name for the area.
JBG echoed Federal Realty’s view on the White Flint name. “The main position we have is that we are just about to undertake a totally visionary transformation of the area,” JBG Principal Greg Trimmer said. “We’re going to make it a walkable, bikeable, urban neighborhood that is something so different from what it was in the past. You kind of want a name that reflects that.”
JBG is building the North Bethesda Market District, which already includes the mixed-use North Bethesda Market, where Whole Foods and luxury apartments are located. In the future, JBG plans to build additional mixed-use residential and retail space nearby.
Lerner, which owns the mall and is developing a new neighborhood on its location, is on the other side of the debate. The company says the White Flint name is gaining momentum.
“White Flint is well established, creates a connection between the area’s past and future, is a name that resonates both locally and regionally, and casts a vision for transformation,” wrote Lerner in a statement from Senior Managing Director Francine Waters.
Lerner points out that the name White Flint is on the master plan, that there’s a White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee, the White Flint Metro station and the Friends of White Flint.
The Friends of White Flint, which was formed as a public-private partnership to make sure the master plan is implemented, will not take a position on the name issue, according to Lindsay Hoffman, the group’s executive director. She did say the area needs one name.
“This has been an issue for way too long,” Hoffman said. “If we’re going to build a cohesive district, it has to have one name, and everyone needs to buy into it.”
Goldman believes one way to settle the issue is allow developers to name their neighborhood developments whatever they want and then come to a general agreement on something new for the overall district. It’s a case he plans to make in front of the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee at its June 10 meeting. Federal Realty likes the name The Pike District. The 12-member advisory committee was appointed by the County Executive and County Council to help implement the White Flint sector plan.
“People in this area want to have a boulevard they’re proud of, as well as a place that’s their central neighborhood,” Goldman said. “Given that and the national significance of Rockville Pike, we felt strongly that the overall brand should be Pike or something with Pike in it.”
Goldman said Federal Realty has conducted market research centered on the names White Flint and North Bethesda and found that there “wasn’t a whole lot of excitement around either one.”
He said there’s a perception that the name North Bethesda is an attempt to piggyback on the cachet of Bethesda, while White Flint is associated with an “aging, basically empty mall.”
Trimmer said he doesn’t have a problem with the name White Flint, but believes the stakeholders need to get the name right.
“We think that everybody should be involved and really spend some time and hard work getting it absolutely right, whatever it is,” Trimmer said. He said if there’s consensus around White Flint, that’s fine, but he believes the name is too connected with the mall, “which is great for Lerner, but not so much for us.”
Ken Hartman, the executive director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, who is setting up a website and logo for the urban district and also serves as a nonvoting member of the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee, said the committee understands there’s disagreement. He said it will be important for the stakeholders to settle on one name for national marketing purposes.
Right now, he says, the variety of names creates confusion, “What I always tell people is we have Rockville Whole Foods at the North Bethesda Market, which is located at the White Flint Metro station.”
Hartman conducted an informal poll on the name that asked what the new business district developing around the White Flint Metro station should be called. A total of 229 votes were cast and 48 percent picked White Flint, 37 percent picked North Bethesda, and a few other names received a small amount of votes.
“Maybe the idea of a larger district with neighborhood names will work for everyone,” Hoffman said. “That will allow Lerner to keep the White Flint name, but other developers can choose their own.”
“This has been an issue for years,” Hoffman added. “It’s uncomfortable to have it surface, but it’s also exciting.”