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December 24, 2014

Amid regional competitors, Rockville’s Town Center looks to carry on

Originally published at by Ryan Marshall.

Rockville’s Town Center needs to stay vibrant to compete with other entertainment centers around the county, one developer recently told the city’s mayor and council.

The competitive environment for the downtown area has changed in the past year, Marc Dubick, president of Duball LLC, told the mayor and council in November.

With the Pike & Rose development in North Bethesda, Crown Farm and Rio in Gaithersburg and a new food court and movie theater at Bethesda’s Westfield Montgomery mall, all within about a 10-minute drive from Town Center, downtown Rockville faces new competition for its optimal customers, Dubick said.

He said he knew of several Town Center businesses that have closed in the past few months, and he predicted that more would close.

The county also is moving its offices of Permitting Services and Environmental Services from Rockville Pike to Wheaton, which will meaning fewer employees and customers in Rockville, Dubick said.

Dubick made his comments while trying to persuade the council to allow Duball to expand the number of residential units in a planned project in Town Center.

It’s not enough for Town Center to draw people off of Interstate 270 and up from Potomac, Dubick said. The area needs a core group of residents living in downtown Rockville, he said.

The mayor and council ultimately approved the Duball project expansion, although they agreed to a smaller reduction in the number of parking spaces for the project than the developer was seeking.

Rick Hood, owner of the Dawson’s Market grocery, supported expanding the Duball project, and said his business depends on foot traffic in a thriving Town Center.

Hood said he, too, is concerned about Town Center’s ability to compete with Pike & Rose and other nearby projects.

Dawson’s manager, Bart Yablonsky, said the store’s demographic is largely young professionals who are interested in healthful eating and who live near the store.

“The vibrancy of Rockville Town Square is very important to the success of Dawson’s Market,” he said.

There’s always been competition for customers, with Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia within easy driving distance, said Laurie Boyer, executive director of Rockville Economic Development Inc.

It’s important to keep all of the city’s retail centers full, and Town Center is a very strategic location in the heart of downtown, she said.

Boyer said retail is often a very cyclical industry, and if multiple businesses come to a new location around the same time, their leases may come up at the same time.

If several businesses decide not to renew their leases, it can lead to several open spaces simultaneously.

Boyer said that when a new area opens, such as Pike & Rose or Crown Farm, it’s natural for people to want to see what it’s about.

“Everybody wants to go to the new place and try the new place. But that doesn’t mean that’s going to be a consistent pattern,” she said.

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