Call them the pioneers of the newly urbanized White Flint.
In the first apartment building to open in the massive mixed-use development project at Pike & Rose, 165 of the 174 units have been leased — many before the movie theater with reclining seats and 32,000-square-foot gym opened across the street.
Next door, contractors are building a garage part of a hotel and condo building planned for the second phase of the neighborhood. A brand new street called Grand Park Avenue is separated from the construction zone by a wall covered with ads reading “find your happy place” and “cozy up & get down.”
There’s a Gap store, 250-seat music venue and children’s clothing boutique close to the piece of land once occupied by E.J. Korvette, the big box department store synonymous with suburban strip malls. It used to anchor one of the largest such properties on Rockville Pike, the now-demolished Mid-Pike Plaza.
“We’re just seeing the early potential of it and of the Pike District,” said Pete Piringer, who moved into a 2-bedroom unit in the Persei apartment building with his wife last August. “It’s nice. Pioneers we are.”
Piringer, the spokesperson for the Montgomery County fire department, said moving to Pike & Rose was primarily his wife’s decision. She takes the Metro to her job at NIH. The two are veteran empty nesters, having lived in apartments in downtown D.C. and near the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station.
“It’s that city life, where everything’s right near you,” Piringer said. “It’s kind of what we fell into in D.C. We loved it, those great amenities and so on, so forth.”
At Pike & Rose, those ground-floor retail and commercial spaces only began opening last fall. Many are still in the process of opening this winter.
“That’s one of the struggles with mixed-use is that when you get your ability to open the building, the residents start to move in but the retail is just starting to fit out inside their space,” said Evan Goldman, vice president of development for Pike & Rose developer Federal Realty.
“Our initial wave tends to be early adopters who understand that and are willing to wait. So they were waiting for White Flint to happen,” Goldman said. “They might believe in it from a smart growth perspective or they have been out in Bethesda Row and they love it and they see this as the next hot thing. There’s that core group.”
iPic, the movie theater with the reclining seats and full-service menu, opened on Grand Park Avenue in late October. Stella Barra Pizzeria and Summer House, two of the restaurants on the ground floor of the Persei building, opened this year. The Sport&Health club that takes up two floors of the building across the street opened a few weeks ago.
“It’s an interesting group of people who are wanting to see this place develop,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, senior marketing manager with Federal Realty. “Not only did they buy into the vision, but they believe in that vision so much that they’re willing to wait for it.”
While Fair Housing laws prohibit Federal Realty from discussing demographic data of its first Pike & Rose residents, Roger Berliner said he’s noticed a mix of younger and older residents in the Persei building. Piringer said he has observed most of the building’s residents are young professionals.
Berliner, the county council member who represents the Bethesda and the White Flint area, moved into Pike & Rose in November.
“We have a great diversity of ethnicity, an incredible number of young people and we’ve got seniors,” Berliner said. “To me, this proves the point that young people and older people want the same things.”
The council member might be the most ardent early adopter in the new White Flint. He played a pivotal role in approving the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan, the planning document that set zoning and land use rules to allow the urbanization of the White Flint/Pike District area.
Despite Pike & Rose’s status as the first major Sector Plan project to get off the ground, it’s not actually the first urban development in the area.
Chevy Chase-based developer JBG’s North Bethesda Market was already under construction in 2010 and features the county’s tallest building — a 289-foot high residential tower with retail and restaurants on the ground floor. A Whole Foods store anchors the block of apartments and restaurants across the street.
“They really were pioneering. The were building an urban, mixed-use development without even the vision for what that would look like in White Flint,” Goldman said.
Federal Realty watched and learned from JBG’s experience. The developer sold the completed portion of North Bethesda Market last March. It’s putting the second portion of North Bethesda Market through the county’s approval process now.
Across Rockville Pike, Lerner Enterprises is planning a bigger mixed-use development on the site of the White Flint Mall. Closer to Pike & Rose, developer LCOR has its own plans for a mixed-use, town center-oriented neighborhood that would be built next to the White Flint Metro station.
A host of other developers have proposed their own mixed-use residential and commercial projects along the Rockville Pike corridor.
“I’ve certainly been an advocate for new urbanism and this is about as good as it gets,” Berliner said. “It is a better quality of life.”
Later this year, the 19-story, 318-unit Pallas apartment building will open at Pike & Rose about a block west of Persei.
Even as the new-look White Flint wins new residents, memories of the old White Flint remain fresh.
“I can’t tell you how many times somebody has flagged me down and said, ‘Can you tell me where the Toys ‘R’ Us is,” Piringer said. The toy store that used to anchor Mid-Pike Plaza was reduced to rubble last year.
“It’s kind of exciting to see it all come together,” Piringer said.