2019 | Bethesda Beat

Rockville Establishing Advisory Group In Effort To Boost Town Center

Reasons for business closings, revitalization plans getting fresh examination

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Rockville Town Center as seen from the walkway leading from the Rockville Metrorail station pedestrian bridge over Route 355.

Bethesda Beat Photo

An advisory group  comprised largely of owners of commercial and residential property in Rockville’s Town Center is being formed to help revitalize the city’s downtown after a number of shops and restaurants have closed in recent years.

The work group, spearheaded by Rockville Economic Development Inc., is expected to be part of a larger discussion scheduled Monday night when Rockville’s mayor and council gets an update on a revitalization plan developed last fall.

City officials held emergency meetings last fall in an attempt to quell community concerns after a grocery store and several restaurants abruptly closed in Town Center, a district that includes apartments, shops, restaurants and offices.

Since the 11-point revitalization plan was established, two more retailers — Little Dipper Hot Pot-Rockville on Gibbs Street and Liquid Blue Boutique on Maryland Avenue — have closed in Town Square.

Federal Realty Investment Trust, The Foulger-Pratt Companies, Duball LLC and Rockville-based Capital Bank have been named to the work group, according to Rockville’s mayor.

“We are all in this together and we have to work together on how to keep Town Center vibrant,” Mayor Bridget Donnell-Newton said.

REDI’s executive director Cynthia Stewart is heading up the work group, Newton said.

Rockville’s chief of long-range planning, David Levy, has been named as assistant director of planning and business improvement, a position created under the revitalization plan.

Levy will work directly with City Manager Robert DiSpirito to focus on business revitalization, according to city documents prepared for Monday’s meeting.

City staff has also recommended discussing a formal update to the Rockville Town Center Master Plan and reviewing existing development density limits and zoning ordinances that affect building height and parking limits.

The Urban Land Institute has been commissioned to provide recommendations for land use and economic development in Town Center. The Department of Recreation and Parks has also hired a consultant to update the city’s plan for culture and arts.

Improving access to Town Center will also be discussed Monday. Fifteen-thousand students at nearby Montgomery College are among the prime targets to drive business to the downtown.

Other recommendations include making improvements to the Rockville Metrorail Station, including adding Bus Rapid Transit and improving or rebuilding an existing pedestrian bridge.

While staff recommended creating a merchant-resident task force as part of the original 11-point plan, city officials are unsure how to proceed.

City staff has also asked officials to address plans to create and implement an economic development strategy that would draw one or more large-scale events to Town Center.

While city officials outlined a short-term plan to potentially adjust parking rates and meter times in Town Center, which for years has been seen as a deterrent to business, no changes have occurred since the November meeting.

Another short-term goal — to improve signs along Rockville Pike to attract more visitors to downtown Rockville — has not been addressed.