Thursday, February 28, 2019

Nighttime work on Woodmont Avenue (Video+Photos)

Utility crews are working under the street on Woodmont Avenue overnights between Norfolk Avenue and Old Georgetown Road. This appears to be part of the ongoing WSSC work, as Blueridge is a sewer/utility construction contractor, but as you can see in the video below that nighttime work is also going on at the Marriott HQ consruction site in that block. Watch out for lane closures in the area.

South Street Steaks building now available for lease

Things were looking up for the return of South Street Steaks on Cordell Avenue in recent weeks. After structural repairs were completed on the building that was hit by a car last summer, the cheesesteak restaurant's awning was reattached to the facade. Still, all was silent on the South Street Steaks social media pages. Yesterday, for lease signs appeared on the front and side of the restaurant, suggesting that South Street has decided not to reopen at this location.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

7000 Wisconsin Avenue project includes small mystery movie theater in sketch plan

Unclear who would operate
4000 SF theater, or if it is
viable in today's market

A Woodfield Development/Starr Capital-developed mixed-use residential building proposed for 7000 Wisconsin Avenue will include a small movie theater. But the applicant's attorney, Bob Dalrymple, said he did not know any details about the 4000 SF theater shown on the project's sketch plan at a required pre-submission public meeting last night. Downtown Bethesda has suffered greatly from the demolition of Regal Cinemas Bethesda 10 over a year ago, with many longtime anchor restaurants nearby closing after foot and vehicle traffic severely dropped after the cineplex's demise. But it's unclear if this small theater can help, given that it takes several auditoriums to turn a profit when showing first-run Hollywood blockbusters these days.
Aerial view with design references
at right
The project assembles properties between 6936 and 7000 Wisconsin, including Orvis and Mattress Firm. Replacing them will be a 132' building with up to 200 residential units and 15000 SF of retail and restaurant space, including the movie theater. As a mid-block project adjacent to future likely-to-be-redeveloped properties, Dalrymple said the design has to take potential adjoining buildings into account. Only massing renderings were shown, so we don't yet know what the actual architectural design of the building will look like at this point.
Massing diagram showing other
potential buildings that could be
constructed around 7000 Wisconsin
in the future
All vehicle access to 120 underground parking spaces and loading docks will be from the alley behind the building, which concerned residents of the nearby Adagio condos, who said the alley is too narrow for delivery and moving trucks to use it on a regular basis. Dalrymple assured them that the applicant will review this issue going forward. Delivery trucks that park either in active traffic lanes, or that block sidewalks, have become a source of complaints for downtown Bethesda residents, pedestrians and drivers in recent years.
Floorplan diagrams, including rooftop
The building will include 17.5% MPDUs, and offer a rooftop amenity of some kind. Someone suggested that the small theater could be programmed for children because the site has been home to a children's museum in the past. It appears a space for a replacement cineplex will still have to be found at a larger downtown site - and fast.
Street view, with potential facade design
reference at right
Public alley behind building
Parking garage under building
Movie theater shown in red at
rear of building
Vertical rendering of floors
Orientation maps of downtown Bethesda
Satellite view of site (left) and
photo inventory of nearby structures (right)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Moribund MoCo economy forces Brookfield to go with residential for 4 Bethesda Metro Center tower

And the hits just keep on coming. Montgomery County's future of fewer jobs and more overcrowded classrooms is further cemented by developer Brookfield's decision to go with residential housing instead of office space at their planned 4 Bethesda Metro Center tower. A high-profile location and position on the Bethesda skyline was thought to be an ideal lure for a major corporate tenant. But as other office developers have learned to their chagrin, those companies just don't want to come to an anti-business jurisdiction like Montgomery.

This is the second major blow to our moribund County economy in the last few days. Just last week, tech firm Yext announced a Rosslyn office with 500 high-wage jobs. Following Amazon's decision to choose Crystal City for its 25000 HQ2 jobs, the Yext announcement led several to declare Northern Virginia "the next Silicon Valley."

After the local media allowed clueless MoCo elected officials to declare their Amazon loss a victory, let's see how our "new" County Council spins dozens of additional public school students from 4 Bethesda Metro Center as a win. LOL.

4 Bethesda Metro Center will now include up to 489 residential units, and only 16,422 SF of new retail and restaurant space.

Yext Rosslyn announcement pounds final nail into MoCo's tech job coffin

Northern VA declared
"next Silicon Valley"
after tech firm follows
Amazon's 25000 jobs
into the Old Dominion

There's nothing new about Northern Virginia destroying Montgomery County when it comes to economic development, nor about tech firms choosing the "birthplace of presidents" and D.C. over moribund, high-tax-and-regulation MoCo. But Montgomery's sad role as pinata in our regional rivalry just got weaker than ever last week, when New York-based tech firm Yext announced it would open a new office in Rosslyn with 500 high-wage jobs. On the heels of Virginia's victory in the nation's biggest job sweepstakes - Amazon's HQ2 that will open in Crystal City - the Yext move now has national power brokers officially declaring Northern Virginia the "next Silicon Valley."

Rosslyn's latest big "get" follows other new arrivals to Arlington's business hub with monumental views like the world headquarters of Nestle, Corporate Executive Board, Gerber and Deloitte. Not to mention all the other HQs NoVa has nabbed in recent years, including Hilton Hotels, IntelSat, Volkswagen and Northrop. Yext has leased the top three floors of 1101 Wilson Boulevard, a Class A tower with breathtaking views of the Potomac River and Capitol dome, among other landmarks, according to the Washington Post. Most embarrassing of all, the Yext deal wasn't even a deal - Virginia is paying them no tax incentives, Yext founder Howard Lerman tells the Post. Meanwhile, Montgomery County hasn't attracted a major corporate headquarters in two decades.
Capital One tower in Tysons,
the tallest office building in
the D.C. region
Montgomery has a national reputation as being hostile to business, a high-cost location to do business from, and having an ideological aversion to completing its master plan highway system - or adding Express Lanes to jammed interstates (unlike Virginia). How bad is it? Bethesda-based Donohoe Companies' CEO Chris Bruch had to chastise Montgomery politicians, who are furiously trying to block Gov. Larry Hogan's Express Lanes proposal for I-270 and the Beltway, in a letter published by the Post last weekend.

In other counties and cities, local officials are usually allied with business leaders like Bruch to complete major infrastructure projects. Here? Welcome to Clowntown, U.S.A.!

But our horrible reputation has compounded many past defeats with a major one. All major local jurisdictions have been competing for some time to be seen as a national tech hub. The Amazon and Yext victories have now led to that contest ending with the official recognition that Northern Virginia has won: game, set, match: Virginia.

"Northern Virginia's status as an East Coast tech hub got a major lift last week," wrote the Post's Aaron Gregg of the Yext announcement. "Northern Virginia is a reservoir of untapped talent," Lerman told Gregg. "I think it's the quiet next Silicon Valley." Gregg notes that the hits taken by Pentagon contractors in the Obama-era knucklehead budget battles on Capitol Hill led Virginia officials to turn to the private sector. "They have succeeded with a string of influential corporations setting up offices and headquarters in places such as Rosslyn and Tysons."

How much did we lose when the Montgomery County Council fumbled the Amazon golden ticket last year? 25,000 new jobs, $4 billion in lost wages, and $12 billion in collateral economic growth that Amazon would have provided. None of that even includes the tax revenue that would have accrued to Montgomery and Maryland.

Although it's unclear if our corrupt elected officials are capable of being embarrassed, particularly when they are being coddled and protected by an obsequious local press and surrounded by "Yes Men," we now know that Amazon was watching and listening to their public statements and actions very closely last year. Anti-Amazon and anti-business sentiments made by councilmembers last year were topped off by the capstone of the Council canceling the biggest infrastructure project near our proposed Amazon site in White Flint - while the Amazon executives were touring White Flint. It doesn't get any dumber than that, folks.

"For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term," Amazon said in its official statement announcing they were withdrawing their New York proposal. Yes, the comments and behavior of our "local elected officials" were indeed given heavy weight by Amazon. Anti-business sentiments and a bizarre, radical opposition to needed new roads were clearly not the winning message.

“A small group of politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said after Amazon's pull-out there, but he could have been talking about the Montgomery County Council, too. Nobody knows Montgomery's reputation for being hostile to business better than Yext founder Lerman, who grew up in Vienna. That irony echoes the Amazon decision as well, where one of the key decision makers for Amazon in the HQ2 search was Holly Sullivan, former President of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation. Sullivan knew our elected officials very well, and was very familiar with our business climate and failing infrastructure and traffic congestion. After all, she had to drive around it herself for several years! She knew exactly what Amazon would get by selecting Montgomery County, and...egads!!! Yikes!

Fortunately for New York City, at the end of the day, they're still New York City and an economic powerhouse even without Amazon. At the end of the day, Montgomery County is still...moribund.

Casa Oaxaca posts banner at future location in Bethesda

Casa Oaxaca, the Mexican restaurant and tequila and mezcal bar I reported has leased the space at 4905 Fairmont Avenue in Bethesda, posted a "Coming Soon" banner on the storefront Monday. It mentions a spring opening is planned. This was most recently home to TacoArepa.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Demolition continues for Avocet Tower project in Bethesda (Video+Photos)

Multiple buildings are being demolished at once at the 7373 Wisconsin Avenue site of the future Avocet Tower office building in downtown Bethesda. They include the now-abandoned Montgomery County police station, an office building, a carpet store, and an appraisal and realty office.

High winds bring power outages to Bethesda

High winds with gusts over 20 MPH have been buffeting Bethesda for about 13 hours. While it could be much worse, some residents have lost power over this time as limbs, trees, and power lines are blown down. Around 11:00 PM last night, exploding transformer flashes could be seen in the distance from Bethesda. Afterward, customers in Cabin John and Carderock Springs reported outages.

Right now, there are a handful of outages affecting Pepco customers. One is in a neigbhorhood off River Road just west of the WSSC water filtration plant and the Watts Branch River by the C&O Canal. It occured around 3:56 AM, and Pepco says they hope to have restored power by 7:00 AM. 8:00 AM is the target for the less than 5 customers in the dark near the intersection of Bradley Boulevard and the Capital Beltway.

The biggest outage is in Chevy Chase by Friendship Heights, affecting over 400 customers. It happened around quarter after 5:00 this morning. Pepco is shooting for a 10:00 AM restoration time there. Winds are expected to continue to gust through sundown this evening, reaching a low of 4 MPH around 2:00 AM Tuesday morning.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Kia Stinger Salon closes at Westfield Montgomery Mall

The Kia Stinger Salon has closed at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. Kia had opened several of these in malls around the country ahead of the holidays. But the closure was not necessarily expected. Not only did the automaker not describe these as temporary holiday pop-ups, but had actually promised they would be opening more this year between New Year's Day and the end of March, in California, Texas and Georgia. It appears they must not have gotten the results they expected from the promotion, although it did get them quite a bit of online media attention.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Lotus Grill & Bar to replace Noodles & Company in Bethesda

Ampersands have outlasted pasta at the vacant former home of Noodles & Company at 4929 Elm Street in downtown Bethesda. Lotus Grill & Bar has leased the space, and construction appears to be underway on the interior. The restaurant will be located in the Shoppes of Bethesda shopping center. They have a Montgomery County liquor license hearing scheduled for March 21.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Oakville Grille/Wildwood Italian Cuisine contents put up for auction

An online auction listing with photos and street address matching Oakville Grille and Wildwood Italian Cuisine at the Wildwood Shopping Center in Bethesda, indicates that the contents of the restaurants were placed up for auction bids online February 18. Refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, tables and chairs and silverware were among the many items to be bid on. The auction is now closed, according to the online listing.

Interestingly, while the listing claims the restaurants have closed, Yelp and Google do not list either as such yet. Oakville Grille and the associated Wildwood Italian Cuisine have been rumored to be closing for several years. Stay tuned!

Casa Oaxaca to take over TacoArepa space in Bethesda

The new tenant in the vacant TacoArepa space at 4905 Fairmont Avenue will keep the cuisine Latin American. Mexican restaurant Casa Oaxaca will take over there soon, having signed a lease a few weeks ago. It will be interesting to see how they utilize the outdoor patio area when the weather turns warmer.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Bethesda construction update: Brightview Bethesda (Photos)

The lights are on in the Brightview Bethesda, even if nobody's home yet. This new addition to the skyline in the Woodmont Triangle on Rugby Avenue is now visible from nearby streets at night. An assisted living apartment building, the project has been developed by Shelter Development, and the construction contractor is Bethesda's Donohoe.