March-April 2011 | Home & Garden

Symphony Rises

Developers of a new project next to Strathmore hope to strike just the right note with luxury homebuyers.

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“I think it’s a great thing for the developers to be part of a great community like Strathmore,” says Bob Youngentob, president of the Bethesda-based EYA, which is building Arts District Hyattsville and competed against Streetscape for the Strathmore parcel. “Partnering with the community in which you are developing is a very important part of developing today and in the future.”

Derek Hyra, associate professor of urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech, sees Symphony Park as part of a trend that started in dilapidated cities across the country. “It’s part of a type of branding to attract a certain type of person,” he says.

There likely will be fewer parking woes, a lower crime rate and less urban grit than in places like D.C.’s Penn Quarter or even Georgetown. And proximity to Metro’s Grosvenor-Strathmore station is a big selling point, according to observers.

However, WalkScore, a website that rates neighborhoods on how easy it is to walk to the store, bank, Metro and other public places, gives the Strathmore Avenue and Rockville Pike address just a 68 out of a possible 100 points, meaning it’s “somewhat walkable.” Washington’s Dupont Circle, by contrast, has a 98 walk score.

That means that although residents will be able to amble over to the Metro, a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performance, afternoon tea, or a yoga class at Strathmore, they’ll likely drive to the grocery store, the mall, the country club or to a restaurant for dinner.

But McLaurin envisions an even more walkable neighborhood around Symphony Park as the county’s 20-year plan for the White Flint area gets underway with its “smart growth” mix of housing, restaurants and shops along the Rockville Pike area just north of the concert hall.

“It’s going to get more dense and a lot taller,” McLaurin says. “There’s going to be more living and walking along this corridor.”

Stephen Melman of the National Association of Home Builders says developing an arts community is a particularly smart gambit in Montgomery County, where the novelty may distinguish Symphony Park from its competition and help attract buyers among the county’s affluent and highly educated population.

“Everybody’s competing,” Melman says. He notes that even once successful concepts such as golf course communities are failing as buyers are slow to re-enter the real estate market. Townhome and condominium projects have been particularly vulnerable since the real estate market imploded. Despite that, he thinks the arts concept might give Symphony Park an edge.

Ironically, among the projects to falter elsewhere is a residential development in Las Vegas, also planned around a performing arts center and also named Symphony Park. Groundbreaking has been pushed back several times, and it’s now looking at a 2017 start date, according to Sam Gladstein, a vice president with Newland Communities in Las Vegas.

Locally, some observers wonder if homebuyers will pay upwards of $1 million for townhomes with a Rockville address. Bruce Lemieux, a real estate agent who tracks county sales on mocorealestate.com, says units at the top end of the county’s residential market have taken the longest to sell and have required the steepest price reductions since the market bust. He points to townhomes by the same architectural firm that have been languishing, some for a couple of years, at an arguably better address: EYA’s Park Potomac, a short drive from Strathmore.

“The upper end of the market is just tough,” he says. “The big draw will be quality of life and location—near the Red Line. The Strathmore membership is a nice gimmick, but I don’t think that will be a big draw.” But Symphony Park’s Kaplan thinks the tie-in with Strathmore will be a big draw. “The Music Center at Strathmore is an architectural and cultural jewel of this region, and we believe residents will be drawn to the incredibly diverse and wide ranging programs at Strathmore, be it a summer outdoor concert or a Friday night jam session in the Mansion.”

Christine MacDonald is the author of Green, Inc.: An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone Bad (The Lyons Press, 2008). She lives in Washington, D.C., and has written for The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News and The Nation.