Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Explosive Rockville Town Square public meeting - it's even worse then we thought

"I was crying like
hell when we 
received the letters
that they were going
to evict us"

A public meeting on the future of Rockville Town Square exceeded the fire code-allowed capacity of the Buchanan Room at VisArts last night, forcing overflow attendees to listen from out in the hallway. Emotiional testimonies by business owners were only topped by bombshell announcements of additional business closures at the Square, and another Federal Realty property in Town Center.

Takeaways from the night include two clear problems - the widely-despised parking policies at RTS, and that "the rent is too damn high" at that property and nearby Courthouse Center. Last night we learned the latter is about to lose one of its most-popular and beloved tenants, when the owner of the Apollo Restaurant announced it will close at the end of this month, citing an inability to pay the high rent Federal Realty is asking for.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton
addresses the crowd
A member of the family that owns Samovar, a restaurant that has been closed for almost two months after water leaked in from the apartments above it, detailed her struggles with brokers and Federal Realty from the beginning. She said a property manager at RTS repeatedly stalled in giving her a key to their leased space, leaving owners and contractors unable to immediately access the restaurant as they began construction.

"I was crying, asking and begging them," she recalled. "Please, we need to start." Her architect charged them overtime as a result, she added. "He was standing there, next to the door," as she had no key or passcode to let him in. She said her father had opened and operated a successful restaurant in New York City with seating for one-thousand people, one in Denver, and another in Portland, Oregon, and assumed he would find similar success in Rockville.

But, "we cannot survive here," she said. "I was crying like hell...when we received the letters that they were going to evict us," she recounted. She segued into one of the banes of RTS tenants - parking. "Nobody wants to come here because of the parking," She noted correctly that two hours of validated parking is not enough for many people. Samovar hosts entertainment and events at which people may stay for more than two hours. She said Samovar wants to continue, but "I don't know," receiving a round of applause at the end of her remarks from the crowd.
Attendees file into the Buchanan Room,
which eventually reached fire code capacity
A tearful owner of Pandora Seafood House and Bar said Federal Realty is evicting her restaurant later this month, after only one year (it was still operating last night). She said she was fooled about the full cost of renting the space by her agent, who she is now suing, and about what she would have to pay during the construction phase - which lasted quite a while, if you remember.

One retail tenant at the Square pointed to the larger business climate beyond Rockville as a cause of her trouble."I can no longer afford to do business in Montgomery County, or the state of Maryland," she said, announcing that she currently does not plan to renew her lease when it ends. "I'm telling you, Rockville, you are losing the heart of your city. Please do not make the mistake of letting all of your small, independent businesses go."

Former Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo, widely credited for his leadership in delivering the city's redeveloped Town Center, was clearly concerned about the fate of one of his legacy projects. Giammo honed in on the question of high rents. "What are the lease rates that Federal Realty is charging tenants here, and how do those compare" with competing developments, he asked to an eruption of applause. "It's obviously the key to understanding what's going on here."

Giammo said he was "heartbroken" to find out that Dawson's Market will be closing this month. "My family and I shop there a good three, four, five times a week. It's really a part of our lives now." He noted that the number of cars filling the reserved Dawson's Market spaces in the N. Washington Street surface lot at RTS often exceed the number of customers actually shopping inside the store. Despite repeated pleas from Dawson's to Federal Realty and parking contractor Colonial Parking, "neither has ever done anything" to assist the store. "So my question is, 'Why not?' If Federal Realty wanted it to succeed, why did they ignore such obvious issues?" Giammo concluded to applause.

Another former elected official, City Councilman Tom Moore, called the decision to cut the planned height of the development's residential buildings in half a "fatal flaw." He said the reduced density deprived Town Center business owners of many more potential customers.

Resident Joe Jordan recommended that Federal Realty and the city conduct a form of exit interview with businesses that close, to determine if the cause was rent, their business model, or another issue.

Other suggestions made by attendees included more investment in arts and entertainment, turning Dawson's into a co-op market, adding a dog park, making a better connection to the Metro station, allowing up to 5 hours of free parking, and operating a shuttle bus.

There was no shortage of complaints and concerns, but one element missing from the meeting was hearing from businesses that are doing well at Rockville Town Square. What are they doing right, what is drawing traffic to them, and how might those insights assist tenants who are struggling, or Federal Realty in better targeting local demographics? There was also frustration at the lack of feedback from City officials and Federal Realty representatives. One attendee said that he had expected more of a dialogue.

Officials said they wanted to allow the maximum time for the public and business owners to speak, rather than have a back-and-forth conversation. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, who called for the meeting, said the goal was to hear from all of the stakeholders involved to determine how the development can be succcessful. Rockville Chamber of Commerce CEO Marji Graf said all of those stakeholders do share one goal. "We all want the same thing - a thriving Rockville."


  1. It's too bad this meeting didn't take place a one, two, or three years ago when something could have been done to prevent the loss of these businesses from RTS.

  2. I had said to a number of friends and family that this was bound to fail. Limited parking, and expensive on top of that. This area of Rockville from the very start has seen nothing but failure after failure. Maybe it is time to consider making this nothing but a gov't center.

  3. I love how Dyer screams MO CO CARTEL MO CO CARTEL MO CO CARTEL, then barely whispers "Federal Realty".

    1. If folks have a bad business model, why blame Federal Realty?
      They created a great place.

  4. There's too much competition old and new. Crown, Rio, downtown Silver Spring, Pike and Rose, and of course all the strip malls up and down Rockville Pike. On top of those, they're building Twinbrook into a town center and White Flint is supposed to be one as well. It's going to be town centers everywhere and unless Rockville doesn't something about the parking issues they're going to lose all their businesses.

  5. I work in one of the high rises in RTC, and every single day I witness confused drivers park in our lots vs the validated RTC lots. Yes, every retail store validates 2 hours but no one knows that! And plus it doesn't help when half the time the validation doesn't work or the customer discovers that they parked in the wrong lot to get their ticket validated!

    Dawson's needs to be replaced with a small concept Walmart or Target, or even an Amazon convenience/pick up store. There is nothing in the center to draw people to come and stay. My guess on who's next to leave the center is Little Dipper, Marble Slab, Lab Cafe.

    1. 11:46 AM the County Council blocked Wal-Mart coming to the Pike. I assume they'd try to stop them from moving into the Town Square with a smaller, urban concept.

      It's a large space, so maybe another asian grocery store could fill the space.

    2. I'm not sure that the county has the authority to stop a mini-Walmart from coming to the town square because it's within the limits of the city of Rockville. That said, I don't know that they would want a Walmart. A Target would probably be ideal because the closest one right now is all the way down by Montrose. Right now RTC is basically nothing but restaurants.

    3. From Patch 2011: "County Councilman Roger Berliner is vowing to block a Wal-Mart proposed for the Pike Center, saying the store is a bad fit for Rockville Pike."

      Now, back on topic...

    4. Wouldn't a Target be the same (economical effect) as a Walmart?

    5. Most people consider Target to be a little nicer than Walmart. Not a giant step up but a step up none-the-less.

    6. " "County Councilman Roger Berliner is vowing to block a Wal-Mart proposed for the Pike Center"

      At one specific location. Not County-wide. In response to concerns from the community.

      How would Dyer and the rest of the NIMBYs in Westbard respond if a Walmart were proposed there?

    7. 10:38: Wrong. They also stopped the Walmart in Aspen Hill. Concerns were from developers who wanted to preserve both sites for "town centers." There was no widespread community opposition to the Pike Center Walmart, and the opposition in Aspen Hill was ginned up hysteria by the MoCo cartel designed as a poison pill to achieve a mixed-use development on the Vitro site. How delicious that their scheme failed, and it is now going to be a 1960s-style suburban car dealership. LOL #FeelTheBern

    8. "There was no widespread community opposition to the Pike Center Walmart, and the opposition in Aspen Hill was ginned up hysteria by the MoCo cartel."

      Ha ha Dyer you lying hypocritical sack of shit.

  6. Can you post the website address where they are taking comments and ideas? There were so many people last night that I didn't want to talk.


  7. what do you expect? we live in a supremely liberal tax and spend other people's money state, and MoCo is the forefront of that. it's no secret - MD is one of the worst states in the entire country to open a business.