On Thursday, the branding experts hired to craft a name for White Flint’s future met some of the people who already live there.
The result was a clearer picture of why the area’s developers are looking for a single, cohesive and marketable name for an area alternatively known as White Flint, North Bethesda, Rockville or even Kensington.
But it also led to some awkwardness.
Among the short-list of 10 potential names presented by the creative staff at real estate marketing firm Streetsense were “Pike District,” “Quartz District,” and “Slate District,” not to be outdone by “Uptown,” “The Summit,” or “Rocksy.”
Among the criteria for selecting those names was finding one that fit “in the vernacular of our target audience,” the new, probably younger residents who don’t yet live in the area.
“We’re in an interesting situation right now. We’re creating and defining a place that other people may end up living in,” said Dan Hoffman, the county’s chief innovation officer who was active as a resident in the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan process. “But you’re the community now and you need to take ownership of it. And that’s what tonight is all about.”
The charrette was held in the downtown Bethesda offices of Streetsense, the all-in-one real estate marketing, design and development firm hired about a year ago by White Flint developers for a branding study of the area around the White Flint Metro station.
Creative director Gabby Rojchin, managing principal Eric Burka and creative strategist Sarah Wright walked residents through examples of other branded areas, including the new (the Pearl District in Portland and The Gulch in Nashville) and the world-famous (the Magnificent Mile in Chicago and SoHo in Manhattan).
“The goal here is to attract amazing tenants,” Wright said. “After a name is decided, you’re not going to say, ‘You know, I live in XYZ now.’ Instead, that name is going to mainly be identified with the commercial district. This is something that we know will take time.”
The Streetsense team said it was looking for something that was at once fresh and authentic. Just one of the 10 potential names floated included the term White Flint (“Metropolitan White Flint”).
One resident suggested adding “White Flint” to the list.
The mixed-use redevelopment of the area’s strip shopping centers is being done with new zoning and guidelines established by the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan. The White Flint Metro station was used by planners and others to justify more residential density. Montgomery County has adopted White Flint as the name for a pair of public committees dealing with redevelopment issues.
“Anything that does not include White Flint is a wannabe name,” wrote one person on the comments and suggestions board provided at the event.
Hoffman and wife Lindsay Hoffman, who is executive director of the nonprofit Friends of White Flint group, introduced the charrette as a prime opportunity for residents to weigh in on a name that’s been elusive since sector plan work started.
“It’s never really come to a head like it has now,” Hoffman said.
Streetsense was paid to do the study by some of the development companies that make up the White Flint Partnership, though Federal Realty and JBG have taken a lead role in the effort.
In May, as a county advisory board neared the launch of a website for the area called MetroWhiteFlint.org, Federal Realty’s Evan Goldman suggested the group take a step back and consider a name that had more to do with Rockville Pike than White Flint.
Goldman’s original proposal was for an umbrella “Pike District” brand that would allow for individual property owners to label their own projects. Goldman said the new district could include Federal Realty and JBG properties in Twinbrook — inside the border of the City of Rockville.
Wright said the Streetsense consultants worked within the general boundaries of the White Flint Sector Plan and approaching White Flint II Sector Plan, not going into City of Rockville territory. It was also important for the Streetsense team to distinguish the area from Rockville or Bethesda.
What happens next and when is unclear. Those who attended the charrette took quick iPad surveys with questions about each proposed name and filled out sheets of paper rating each name from -5 to 5.
Streetsense said it will gather the feedback and include it in a final recommendation to developers.
The White Flint Downtown Advisory Board, the group charged by the county to create a Bethesda Urban Partnership-like organization for White Flint, has indicated it’s willing to hear what name comes out of the branding study before finishing its website.