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Pike + Rose pushes the envelope on suburban retrofits

Federal Realty's mixed-use developments have transformed suburbs from Bethesda to San Jose. But the size and ambition of their newest project, Pike + Rose in White Flint, is their most ambitious attempt yet to create an urban place from scratch in what's now a very suburban space.

Rendering of Pike + Rose from Federal Realty.

Last week, the Rockville-based developer unveiled their plans for Pike + Rose, a new neighborhood that will be built over the next several years at the former Mid-Pike Plaza shopping center at Rockville Pike and Montrose Parkway.

As the Friends of White Flint blog wrote last week, it will be huge, with 3.5 million square feet of apartments, offices, shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and a hotel on 24 acres. The first of four phases at Pike + Rose broke ground this summer and will open in 2014; when finished, it'll be 5 times the size of Bethesda Row, which took Federal Realty over a decade to build.

But unlike Bethesda Row, which was built in an established community with some urban features, Pike + Rose will attempt to create an urban environment from scratch. The challenge is to create a place that feels "authentic" without the benefit of time and to encourage tenants and visitors to get out of their cars in an area where driving is often the only way to get around.

As the first big project to be built under the White Flint Sector Plan approved in 2010, county planners, elected officials, other developers and residents will be watching to see how successful it is. If done well, Pike + Rose could become a standard-bearer for White Flint, a glimpse of the community's future and a signal to other property owners to step up their game.

Will it be "authentic"?

Bethesda Row, another Federal Realty project. Photo by eddie.welker on Flickr.

New suburban town centers are often derided as fake and contrived, though they have the ability to create meaningful urban places. Like other Federal Realty projects, Pike + Rose tries to avoid this by looking like it's been built over time.

One way is through having a variety of building forms. Along Rockville Pike are tall office towers with large retail spaces, which will give big companies and big-box stores alike the visibility and prominence they want. In the center of the site is Grand Park Avenue, a street with smaller shops, restaurants and a plaza that could become Pike + Rose's social heart.

And along Hoya Street are a line of "point towers," apartment buildings whose ground-floor units have private entrances and yards, providing a transition to the residential neighborhoods to the west.

Another is by having different architects design each building. Three firms worked on Pike + Rose, including WDG Architecture of the District and Street-Works of New York, which also worked on Bethesda Row and Rockville Town Square, and Baltimore-based Design Collective.

As a result, the architecture varies widely from building to building. In the first phase is 11800 Grand Park Avenue, a modernist office building with huge panels of glass and metal accents, and PerSei, an apartment building made to resemble a brick warehouse. In the second phase is a building with terra cotta panels and a heavy cornice that mimics architect Louis Sullivan's Wainwright Building in St. Louis.

Some of these buildings are more successful than others. This approach is hard to do, and when executed poorly, it really can feel artificial. But it can be avoided if each building, regardless of architectural style, is done to a high standard.

A building with poor details or cheap materials in any style will look bad, but if those things are done well, the building should mature with time. Federal Realty did a good job with this in Bethesda Row and Rockville Town Square, though it may be too early to tell how they'll look in the future.

Will it be "connected"?

Site plan showing Pike + Rose's street grid and blocks. Image from Federal Realty.

To its potential tenants and visitors, Pike + Rose claims to offer a complete live-work-play environment. But Ben Harris, who writes a local blog called North FlintVille, notes that a truly "organic" development is one that "is itself a small part of a greater whole."

The White Flint Sector Plan calls for a grid of new streets, which will divert traffic from Rockville Pike, provide multiple connections between each development, and make it easier to get around by foot or bike. Pike + Rose does their part with their network of streets and pedestrian passages, which divide the site into 9 city blocks. Those streets will eventually link up with new streets built by Montgomery County and the state of Maryland, such as an extension of Hoya Street to Old Georgetown Road.

Though the streets are pretty narrow compared to the arterial roads surrounding the development, they appear to have generous sidewalks with lots of landscaping and street trees. The blocks themselves are fairly small; most average about 300 feet long, comparable to blocks in older, inner-city neighborhoods.

Federal Realty's renderings show lively streets lined with restaurants and shops, but it's important that they don't simply stop at the edge of the development. That's what happened at Rockville Town Square, which has two great internal streets but presents blank walls, loading docks and parking garages to the rest of the world.

If Rockville Pike is going to become an urban boulevard, it needs to have buildings open onto it, whether with shops, restaurants, or even large windows that people can see into. The same goes for Old Georgetown Road, where the Sector Plan calls for a two-acre Civic Green across from Pike + Rose that could become White Flint's answer to Dupont Circle.

The stakes are high

Aerial rendering of Pike + Rose from Federal Realty.

Ten years ago, Federal Realty decided to stick with building and running strip malls. They'd literally been burned by Santana Row, an ambitious town center in San Jose that suffered a catastrophic fire and opened half-empty in a recession, and decided that the risk and complexity of urban redevelopment wasn't worth it.

Today, it's a nationally recognized development success; buoyed by demographic patterns that favor mixed-use development, Federal Realty has moved on to even bigger projects.

Like Santana Row, the stakes at Pike + Rose are high. Judging from the details we have so far, it could not only transform White Flint, but light the way for suburban redevelopments across the country.

Crossposted on the Friends of White Flint.

Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 


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It's important not to get too caught up on authenticity because time is the only thing that will grant that. Make sure the fundamentals are good and you'll see the people arriving to give it it's authenticity. People like to dig on Clarendon or wherever but ignore the amount of people walking and biking and shopping and dining in all seasons.

Looks good.

by drumz on Dec 20, 2012 12:42 pm • linkreport

1) this reads like PR, not reporting.

2) is FRT in the strip mall business or town center business. The paragrpah is unclear. Aren't these the people do did Pentagon Row, Bethesda Row, Shirlington, etc. Did they get burned by San jose or not. Confusing.

3) Falls church made a good comment yesterday regarding developer greed. From the renderings, looks about the same size as Columbia Pike or 14th and U. Is this all going to be too quick, too soon and having only one developer run it going to ruin it in the long run? Aren't most of the properties rentals?

by charlie on Dec 20, 2012 12:42 pm • linkreport

That seems like such a great location. It has metro access nearby, tons of existing housing, and with the new montrose parkway is very accessable by car as well. Very excited to see this project move forward it it looks like the pictures

by Matt R on Dec 20, 2012 12:50 pm • linkreport

Looks awsome. I'd second drumz point about getting caught up on authenticity. Time smooths out even the most kitch projects. One thing they've done right is mixing styles. That will go along way to breaking up the theme park feel of it all getting done in a short amount of time. This project is a winner.

by Thayer-D on Dec 20, 2012 1:07 pm • linkreport

Looks like yet another chunk of luxury-only apartments. Doesn't this region have enough of those already?

by raged on Dec 20, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

Psst! raged, don't tell anyone, but overbuilding is one of history's guaranteed ways of getting more affordable housing.

by Thayer-D on Dec 20, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

Raged, by law, developments such as these must include at least 12.5% moderate-priced units.

by Frank IBC on Dec 20, 2012 8:14 pm • linkreport

I work nearby. This is a step up from what's been built recently in the WF area, which is all pretty unintegrated, and uninspired. But even if it's a nice mixed use project it will be surrounded by big self-contained complexes (the big brick joint a block away) and a deadscape of highrises with a little retail thrown in (across Rockville Pike) plus it will have no real relationship to the large employment corridor that's basically behind it. The new cloverleaf will isolate it from a lot of other retail on the Pike and any meaningful alteration of that will require a better pedestrian environment, although the Pike is actually quite a bit better than, say, Leesburg Pike in this respect. Although the arterials will provide multiple ways in from Rockville Pike, it ultimately looks like it will be as confusing to drivers as the traffic circulation at every other large shopping center development on the Pike. At best, this might be a nice lifestyle center with housing that stimulates some better development nearby (not difficult) and might eventually force people to think how to connect it to the surrounding big blocks, but that will take time. The timeline in the piece is confusing...a long-term development, a five year development, opening in 2014 (I'm assuming that's just a small part). The major suburban shopping cneters near where I grew-up each developed over the course of a decade, each. The downtown-ish shopping area of the next suburb over from us developed over the course of about 15 years in a relatively mature suburb. There's nothing novel about long-term development and this would be a better long-term development if it began imagining how it could be a catalyst for improving its surroundings (which would make it more successful commercially).

Comparison with Clarendon is a little unfair to both places as is all the other usual comparisons made to Clarendon. Clarendon really doesn't have a good analogy in MoCo--SS and Bethesda are wedge shaped downtowns with one Metro stop each. Clarendon is really the Calrendon-Court House corridor and serves an area that includes some other closely spaced Metro stops (Ballston, Virginia Square, and even Rosslyn). That corridor is large and a mixed bag ranging from awful (Rosslyn) to flawed and often dead (Ballston), as well as lively if a little plastic (Clarendon). Bethesda works on its own merits and is organized fairly well in relation to the surrounding area, at least W of 355. SS is a mess and made some very poor choices in terms of things like hotels (which should be near Metro) and large residential (which should be near retail, not lined up on E-W Hwy). Rockville Pike has multiple Metro stops but at longer intervals than Clarendon which calls for redundancy with Metro. Although there are roads that parallel Rockville Pike for varying intervals, there's nothing like Wilson Blvd. and Clarendon and remaking the corridor to better distribute through and local traffic will be complicated.

by Rich on Dec 20, 2012 11:23 pm • linkreport

You seem to have forgotten that this new development, with its large numbers of people, will overwhelm the already traffic saturated Rockville Pike. It can't hold any more cars. Other infrastructure, such as schools, electricity, water, gas, and emergency services, are saturated also. These conversions of traditional suburbia to urbania also cause a decline in quality of life for existing residents. What little open space there is now is taken away. There simply is no necessity for the County Council to continue approving all these development requests. They primarily serve to profit developers. Before the developments are built, the infrastructure should be in place, to avoid gridlock on roads, overcrowding of schools, continued electrical power outages, etc. Developers should also build new parks, greenspace, and green buffer zones.

by Marc Brenman on Dec 21, 2012 6:04 am • linkreport

Rockville Pike is already almost always grid locked. That level of stasis is no recipie for success. The only option to grow this area is to begin the long and messy road to mature urbanization. Like when the metro was constructed, there where long periods of disturbance to traffic and local retail, but that's been true of any transit that's gone after development. A recent article in the Post about growth shows people will come here despite grid lock becasue of work.

This isn't a perfect project in a perfect context, but what's the alternative to handling this growth? There'll be many more bad development decisions to re-do becasue of how long we've built an environment that we assumed would always be centered around the car. We have to slowly work our way out of that situation if we expect to stay competative.

by Thayer-D on Dec 21, 2012 6:26 am • linkreport

Having been to (and impressed by) Santana Row, this seems like it could be a spectacular success.

by H Street LL on Dec 21, 2012 7:48 am • linkreport

I reviewed the plans thoroughly after the unveling and must say I'm pretty impressed. I'm really interested in seeing if they actually will go forward with that 300ft (22+ story) office builng (a huge risk in MocO where 99.9% of recent high-density development has been residential apartments). FRIT is actually taking White Flint development seriously. Not only did they quickly get Phase I under construction, they've now promptly submitted the site plan for a very ambitious Phase 2.

Across the street, LCOR's North Bethesda Center (which is very similar in size to Mid-Pike Plaza) is growing at a snail's pace (comparatively)--one building at a time. Plus it's somewhat less dense (a lot of space allocated solely for single-level retail) Further down the road JBG should have started construction on their new monumental residential tower (to be the tallest in the county), but have yet to do so. Lerner also submitted (preliminary) plans earlier this year for the White Flint Mall site which are even more ambitious than Mid-Pike Plaza.

10 years from now White Flint will (hopefully) be unrecognizable. It will definitely be interesting to see a "city" being built from scratch. The biggest problem that I think could happen is that the individual development sites won't mesh well together and will be isolated from one another.

by King Terrapin on Dec 21, 2012 11:07 am • linkreport

Are they going to add transit to this cause I could see the area actually worst even with urban type developments if there is the same amount of transit as we have now.

Montrose Parkway is not that damn close to White Flint Station or even Old Georgetown RD some will simply refuse to walk to the Station.

The stations in Arlington County may be nice on one hand to be so close together; but on the other they are close to the point that it actually disadvantages the rest of the county as you funnel most of the transit in the county, ART or Metrobus to the same roads to stop at a station.

by kk on Dec 24, 2012 12:02 am • linkreport

The site plan doesn't make sense. Are they also getting rid of the southern part of Executive Boulevard?
It is a funny intersection now, and this will simplify it, but it would mean that the street names would be confusing.

by Jamie on Dec 24, 2012 2:10 pm • linkreport


The White Flint plan calls for BRT on Rockville Pike (which fits into the county's larger proposal for BRT on 355 between Friendship Heights and Clarksburg).


The WF plan also calls for realigning Executive Blvd and redesigning the intersection w/ Old G'town Road.

by dan reed! on Dec 24, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

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