Saturday, June 23, 2018

Zenscape spa, Zumiez clothing coming soon to Westfield Montgomery Mall

Two very different new tenants have signed on at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. Opening soon will be Zenscape spa, which already has a location at the Westfield mall in Annapolis. Zenscape will be located on Level 1 next to Claire's.

Also arriving soon will be Zumiez, which offers apparel aimed at heavy shredders of all ages. Whether you are a skater, a snowboarder, a surfer, or all of the above, Zumiez promises "cutting edge" apparel and accessories for you. Zumiez will be on Level 2 by Kicks USA. "Skate or Die! Skate or Die! Die! Die Die Die Die Die!"

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Promenade goes smoke-free in Bethesda

The resort atmosphere at The Promenade will now come with fresher air. Shareholders at the flagship of developer Nathan Landow's portfolio of luxury buildings in Bethesda voted by a 9-1 margin Monday night to make the gated high-rise officially smoke-free.

More than 80% of shareholders cast votes at the meeting. One person familiar with the history of the issue at The Promenade said that less than ten years ago, the matter did not even have sufficient support to be put up for a vote. The question of going smoke-free is one that is more and more frequently discussed at building board meetings in downtown Bethesda. Post-recession luxury towers that have opened advertising their smoke-free status seem to have added momentum to the discussion.

JP Morgan Chase Bank leases space at JBG Smith's 4749 Bethesda Ave. retail building

After Dean & DeLuca quietly backed out of their lease at JBG Smith's new two-story retail building at 4749 Bethesda Avenue, the question has been, who will take over the distinctive structure. JP Morgan Bank has now leased 2853 SF at the building for a new Bethesda branch.

JP Morgan Chase announced in April that it planned to enter our region's banking market in a big way, with 70 branches expected to open in the D.C. area. A month later, it purchased the Bowen Building in the District, as its new regional headquarters. The seller of the Bowen Building was...JBG Smith.

Bethesda was on the list of branch locations in April, but now we know where it will be. 4749 Bethesda is part of the larger 4747 Bethesda Avenue office tower development now under construction adjacent to the unique train station-inspired retail building.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Bethesda construction update: Five Guys at Montrose Crossing (Photos)

Five Guys is not new to either Rockville or Bethesda, but this new one at Montrose Crossing on Rockville Pike will split the difference. The familiar checkered tile, counters and even the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine are in place. No furniture yet, though.

Westfield unveils new urban-style development plan for Montgomery Mall (Photos)

The "Winter Garden" indoor promenade proposed
for Westfield Montgomery Mall's new urban
development addition
Westfield unveiled its proposal for a new, urban-style development addition at Montgomery Mall at a public meeting in Bethesda last night. Featuring new high-end retail and restaurants, a hotel, and 682 apartments, the addition will replace the existing Sears store and surface parking on that side of the mall property. Throwing out phrases like "iconic destination," and featuring a Swedish "woonerf" as a design centerpiece, the plan appears to set the stage for a future transformation of the mall property in the coming decades.
Heritage Court area
The rollout got off to a bumpy start when someone at Westfield decided to leak the plans and renderings to a local media outlet several hours before the 7:00 PM meeting, perhaps seeking a favorable report. A Westfield representative who led the meeting then appeared to refer to that outlet's report, as if it had been widely read, causing confused looks among a crowd that obviously had no clue what he was referring to. Favoring one media outlet over others is not a smart PR strategy, to say the least.
The "Woonerf," a Swedish-conceived
"calming street" that will bisect the new
urban area at Montgomery Mall
Westfield is comparing the new development to Federal Realty's Pike & Rose. The architecture will "reflect the seasonal, wooded quality of the community, combined with a modern, urbane feel." It will be anchored by three main design elements - the Winter Garden, Heritage Court, and the aforementioned woonerf. The woonerf is a Swedish concept for a "calming" street, designed to be used simultaneously by pedestrians, cyclists and automobiles, and equipped with "traffic calming features."

The first two phases of the project are
the Winter Garden/Apartment building 1, and
apartment building 2
None of the buildings are supposed to be taller than the new ArcLight Cinemas nearby on the mall property. Parking will be handled by new garages under the residential and retail, as well as a new garage behind a new retail building, that will be constructed where the current ring road meets the edge of the current Sears parking lot.

Two renderings of the site plan

Westfield acknowledges that Ashburton Elementary School is overcrowded, and says it will be unable to move forward with any residential portion of the development until there is capacity. How that is possible when Phase 1A includes an apartment building is unclear. Construction of the Winter Garden is anticipated to begin next year, after Sears closes on March 31 and is demolished. The Winter Garden is designed to function as the transition zone between the indoor mall and the new development, as an indoor promenade for year-round use.
Partners for the project
Heritage Court, by contrast, will emphasize open space and the outdoors. It will cross the Woonerf, and connect the two separate apartment buildings, and another building with retail and "creative office" space. Renderings give it a Bethesda Row-esque appearance. The hotel and yet another retail structure will be located at the other end of the Woonerf. Westfield is promising one parking space per apartment, and four spaces for every 1000 SF of retail.
Heritage Court and Paseos; an
ice rink is shown a possible winter feature
Construction of the new development is anticipated to be completed by 2022. Westfield will file its preliminary and site plans in late June or early July (MCPS paper schools, er, "placeholders" take effect July 1, so watch that date). The plans require an amendment to the existing plan it received approval for in 2015.
A display of transportation modes for the
new development, and arrival patterns
The rest of the existing mall, minus Sears, will remain intact for this project. Last night's meeting was set up as an open house; one-on-one conversations at the displays were designed to answer questions.
The mall's 2015 approved site plan

Design concepts

The existing retail center

Many questions

Stormwater management plan

Woonerf design concepts

Bethesda Sears store to close March 31, 2019

Sears will close its Bethesda store at Westfield Montgomery Mall on March 31, 2019. The announcement was made late Wednesday not by Sears, but by Westfield, which recently purchased the Sears store building at the mall. 
Given that Sears tightly guards the secrecy of its closure announcements, and that such advance notice will have a severe impact on big-ticket appliance, lawn equipment and electronic purchases at the store, the disclosure was indeed unusual. Westfield says the Sears building will be demolished, and its footprint will be filled by part of a new, urban-style development on that side of the mall (see my story to follow this report).

The report is sad news for fans of Sears, and of traditional American department stores.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Kenwood fireworks 2018 set for Sunday, July 1

The best fireworks display in the D.C. area will once again be presented by the Kenwood Golf and Country Club in Bethesda. This year's Kenwood fireworks will be held on Sunday, July 1, 2018. The event at the private club is for members only. However, the fireworks are visible some distance around the club, and usually begin after 9:00 PM.

Nearby residents - and those nearby or in downtown Bethesda with apartment balconies facing the club - know the drill by now: Plan a backyard party modest or grand, and then gain the cachet of The Great Gatsby himself when an expensive fireworks display suddenly erupts in the sky above, and caps off the evening.
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Savvy Bethesdans (a.k.a. readers of this blog) who aren't part of the landed class can still partake of the fireworks - if they know where to go. The smart spot is in the church parking lot across River Road from the club, where those-in-the-know converge on foot or by car.

I haven't bothered to go into D.C. or out to Rockville for fireworks since Kenwood began their fireworks displays over a decade ago. The Kenwood display is superior, and gets better each year, and it certainly did in 2016.

Impress your friends, avoid getting your pocket picked or purse snatched downtown (or by the crooked Montgomery County Council!), and take in the best fireworks in the D.C. area. Gracious toast and "I'm Gatsby" line are optional.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Peloton to open at Bethesda Row

A Peloton kiosk at Westfield Montgomery
Mall in Bethesda
Peloton, the high-end indoor cycling company, will open a retail location at 4823 Bethesda Avenue at Bethesda Row. The space was just vacated by Ministry. Peloton cycles feature fitness sessions with trainers live-streamed from New York City. The company has already operated a kiosk at Westfield Montgomery Mall, but likely is seeking to reach the even deeper pockets around Bethesda Row.

Moby Dick House of Kabob installs sign at expanded Bethesda location (Photos)

Moby Dick House of Kabob has installed the permanent sign on the front of their newly-expanded location at 7023-7027 Wisconsin Avenue. The 7023 space was formerly home to Stromboli Family Restaurant. Initially, the ownership of Moby Dick had planned to relaunch Stromboli in their current 7027 Wisconsin space, but as Eater DC reported last fall, plans changed to favor just expanding Moby Dick.

Moby Dick just won its first Rammy award, in the category of "Favorite Fast Bite." The local chain recently expanded from the D.C. area to Baltimore, as well. Here's a look at some recent construction photos of the expanded restaurant:

Bethesda Metro Center plaza debate takes new turn with potential sale of Clark Enterprises building

Brookfield's rendering of a"Central Lawn" behind
its planned 4 Bethesda Metro Center tower
The news that Clark Enterprises is testing the sales market for its headquarters building at 7500 Old Georgetown Road has further roiled a contentious debate over the future of the plaza their building shares. That debate has largely hinged on the question of whether developer Brookfield Property Partners should construct their planned 4 Bethesda Metro Center tower with open space behind it, or move the building further back, leaving room for green space closer to Wisconsin Avenue.
Clark Enterprises' Protect Bethesda Open Space
alternative vision with the green space in front
Clark has led an effort called Protect Bethesda Open Space, to argue for the street-facing open space. However, the company does not own the property in question, to which Brookfield has secured the development rights. Brookfield wasted no time in capitalizing on the Clark sale news to accuse the Bethesda firm of having been waging their campaign all along to ensure a better sale price for their headquarters.
"Now we know the truth about Clark’s game plan. Their priority was not to serve the best interests of the community. Rather, it was to protect their interests by moving our new building out of their view to protect their building’s sales price," Brookfield SVP and Regional Counsel Simon Carney wrote in an email Monday morning. "It’s doubtful that Clark will maintain its supposed commitment to Metro Center once they sell their building."

At the same time, a new effort by Bethesda residents who support Clark's vision of a large green space at the front of the plaza is gearing up for the June 27, 2018 Design Advisory Panel meeting on the project, which will be held at 11:30 AM that morning at 8787 Georgia Avenue. They are encouraging those who favor the Protect Bethesda Open Space vision of a larger green space to attend the meeting, and a pre-meeting briefing at 10:15 AM. A sign-up page with details has been posted online.

A 2016 study by Christopher Leinberger, Tracy Hadden Loh, and Richard Wilson of the George Washington University Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis made an argument similar to Clark's, in calling for the "most visible and publicly accessible open space" at the plaza. The study appears to have no affiliation with Clark Enterprises, which is not among the real estate firms listed on the CREUA Advisory Board.

Update - June 20: The article was updated to include new information about the GWU University study for an urban park at the Bethesda Metro Center plaza.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Westfield moving forward with massive development on Montgomery Mall property

Addition includes
retail, a hotel and

Sooner than expected, Westfield is advancing plans to redevelop parts of its Westfield Montgomery Mall property in Bethesda. The international mall operator is preparing to submit plans to Montgomery County for 370,492 SF of new retail and hotel space, and a 682-unit apartment building.

Jim Agliata, Vice President of Development at Westfield, had promised that a future 400,000 SF addition to the mall would be more like Bethesda Row than the current indoor mall. However, few were expecting a major development like this to move forward so soon.

There will be great community interest in the traffic and school impacts of this project, on top of the massive WMAL Toll Brothers development nearby, and on how Westfield will manage parking once this is built. The mall already has a parking crunch during prime shopping periods as it is. Westfield recently relocated the mall's transit center to make room for future development.

A public meeting regarding the new development is scheduled for this Wednesday, June 20, 2018, at 7:00 PM in the Walter Johnson High School All-Purpose room at 6400 Rock Spring Drive.