Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Cambria Suites celebrates Grand Opening in Rockville Town Center (Photos)

Cambria Hotel & Suites
logo projected onto
the hotel last night in
The new Cambria Hotel and Suites celebrated its Grand Opening in Rockville's Town Center last night, with a level of spectacle not usually found at Montgomery County openings. Developer Duball LLC, parent company Choice Hotels (headquartered across E. Middle Lane from the hotel), and Crescent Hotels and Resorts threw what they described as a vintage carnival party, complete with circus tent outside the hotel.

Guests enjoyed several open bars, menu selections from the hotel's socialCircle bistro, and a variety of performance artists ranging from clowns to jugglers to an aerialist who soared above the crowd.
Michael Murphy, SVP of Upscale Brands
at Choice Hotels, prepares to open
the ceremonies, with Helen Heneghan Way
stretching into the background toward
Regal Cinemas
Master of ceremonies was Michael Murphy, Senior Vice President of Upscale Brands at Choice Hotels International. He welcomed several elected officials from the City of Rockville, including Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, and Councilmembers Tom Moore and Virginia Onley.
Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton
with City Councilmembers
Tom Moore and Virginia Onley
"There's been no bigger supporter of Choice Hotels in Rockville than Mayor Bridget Newton," Murphy told the enthusiastic crowd. Newton commended Choice for agreeing to not include a full-service restaurant in the hotel, so that the many close-by restaurants around it would get a boost in business from guests. Newton and Murphy were also both enthusiastic about another recent turn of events surrounding the property.
Mayor Newton addresses
the crowd
"Something magical also happened these last five months," Murphy told the crowd. "It took collaboration with the city," to rename the placeholder Renaissance Street - which runs in front of the hotel - Helen Heneghan Way. Heneghan was a highly-regarded former city clerk and fixture in the community, who passed away a few months ago. Her name rose to the top of hundreds submitted to rename the street, whose original moniker was too close to a competing hotel brand's name for Choice's comfort. The tent in which the event was held stood atop Helen Heneghan Way itself.

Heneghan's husband, Frank, was in the tent as Murphy and Newton spoke. "We are thrilled to be part of this legacy," Murphy said of Helen Heneghan's service to Rockville. The "Way" designation of the street "couldn't be more apt," Newton said, "because there actually is a Helen Heneghan way, which also the Rockville way." The mayor said the hotel and Upton apartments "continue the positive growth" in Rockville's revitalized town center.

"There's no better night than when we're opening a Cambria Suites," Murphy enthused, "except when we're opening a Cambria Suites in Rockville. This is the most amazing time in the last ten years of my career."
Steve Joyce, CEO of
Choice Hotels International
Choice Hotels CEO Steve Joyce shared Murphy's feelings, saying that Cambria Suites are designed to be "upscale, contemporary, and convenient," and to have major appeal to the ever-coveted millennial segment of the market. Joyce said the brand is expanding in the near future to Times Square, Miami, Nashville and New Orleans, among other cities.
MD State Senator Cheryl Kagan
presents a citation from the
General Assembly
State Senator Cheryl Kagan (D-District 17) presented Joyce with a citation from the Maryland General Assembly, congratulating Choice on the opening and its role in the "revitalization of downtown Rockville."

"That was the best citation Steve Joyce has received in the state of Maryland," Murphy joked when he took the mic back. Murphy also congratulated Don Swedberg, General Manager of Crescent, on the Rockville Cambria Suites distinction in having the highest customer satisfaction score in the chain.

Other luminaries in the crowd included Ms. Maryland U.S. 2015 Amber Schroen, Miss Teen Maryland U.S. Ardelle Dickerson, Josefina Simpson and Ilaya Hopkins of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, and a host of officials from Choice and its partners. Also attending were lucky hotel guests, including business travelers from General Dynamics and Merck, Murphy said.
Marc Dubick, Principal and
President of Duball, LLC,
which developed the hotel
Then Murphy directed guests' attention to the center ring - literally - as performers proceeded to divert and entertain the crowd.

But wait, there's more. A tour of the hotel. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, rather than a cookie-cutter hotel room, the suites actually continue the Gothamesque-Modern theme of the building's facade indoors. Your room actually looks more like a swanky, retro Manhattan apartment than the typical lodging quarters. And the latest technology combines with old-fashioned perks like microwaves and personal refrigerators, and Wolfgang Puck coffee.
Conference Room for
business meetings
Mirror in
conference room
Now up to an actual
hotel suite
Hidden fridge

Below ground was another surprise. In addition to a sizable business meeting/conference center space, there is also a decently-sized room for events. "You could do a very nice wedding in this room," the hotel's Senior Sales Manager Renee Grant said. 75-80 people could fit in a table setting for a wedding reception, for example. Up to 125 might fit if you held a meeting or marriage ceremony using theater-style seating.

Back upstairs in the lobby-level bistro, guests watched Monday Night Football on a large widescreen, while enjoying adult beverages from the bar, and carnival-themed treats on an old-fashioned popcorn cart. The carnival performers wandered about the hotel, continuing to entertain. "Is that a clown car?" a clown asked, after a seemingly endless number of guests poured out of an elevator.

Monday Night Football in
the lobby

The bar in the lobby's
bistro restaurant

One of several Rockville-themed
artworks I came across
inside the hotel; does anyone
know what this depicts from
Rockville's past?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Mullican outraises everybody, Osdoby edges Newton in Rockville election money race

Rockville City Council candidate Brigitta Mullican raised the most in campaign contributions of any candidate on the 2015 ballot, according to the Initial Pre-Election campaign finance reports filed October 1 with the city Board of Elections. Mayoral challenger Sima Osdoby edged ahead of incumbent Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, largely thanks to a $1000 check from Town of Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Z. Slavin.

Mullican's report appears to have the longest list of individual contributors, who donated a total of $8069, more than either mayoral candidate raised. She spent $3896.44, and had $2741.15 left over.

Former councilman Mark Pierzchala has the most money in the bank after loaning his campaign $10,000, but he also had the second-largest take in the period with $5385 in receipts. His balance is now $12668.40, after spending $2716.60.

Osdoby raised $5133, spent $1272.91, and had $3979 cash on hand as of October 1. Newton took in $3891.61, spent $1490.24, and has a balance of $2643.44.

Incumbent councilmember Beryl Feinberg raised $4635, spent $4166.77, and had $1443.30 left as of October 1.

City Council challenger Richard Gottfried raised $1060, spent $13597.56 - the most of any candidate on the ballot - and showed a balance of $880.

Fellow council challenger David Hill drew $1558 in contributions, spent $545.77, and ended the period with a balance of $1,246.

Incumbent councilmember Virginia Onley reported $2527.29 in receipts, $1543.61 in expenditures, and a balance of $1095.42.

Her fellow council incumbent Julie Palakovich Carr earned slightly more: $2865; spent 2016.14, and reported a balance of 1023.70

Council challenger Clark Reed raised $2136.70, spent $884.59, and has $973.77 on hand.

Rounding out the council race, challenger Patrick Schoof raised $950, spent $700.94, and has $379.32 remaining.

The Team Rockville slate reported an intake of $5893.09, primarily from its members; has spent $1867.99, and has a balance of $4062.52.

Pierzchala, Onley, Palakovich Carr, Reed and Osdoby are on the Team Rockville slate. Newton, Feinberg, Gottfried, Hill, and Schoof are running as independents.

It's important to remember money isn't everything in elections, as Josh Rales or Steve Silverman can tell you.

Photo via Brigitta Mullican for Rockville City Council Facebook page

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Terano apartments open in Rockville (Photo)

Montgomery County Executive
Ike Leggett and Rockville
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton
help cut the ribbon at
The Terano apartments
City and county officials celebrated the grand opening of the JBG Companies' The Terano, a 214-unit apartment building adjacent to the Twinbrook Metro station in Rockville, on Wednesday. 

“We are excited to officially mark the opening of The Terano,” said Anthony Greenberg, a principal with JBG. “As we introduce more living and shopping options near the Twinbrook Metro, we continue to create a thriving pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented community.”

Amenities at The Terano include a dog park, indoor pet spa with dog treadmill, a bicycle maintenance center, and a courtyard with swimming pool, outdoor kitchen, grilling stations and sundeck with a fireplace. There's also a KICK Fitness center with personal training available, and a yoga studio with classes offered. A game room includes shuffleboard, billiards and a poker table.

“It’s a great day in Rockville to welcome The Terano and its new residents to Twinbrook and to the city,” said Mayor Bridget Newton. “Bringing attractive new housing and retail close to Metro is a significant contribution to the economy, the environment and to our community as a whole. I congratulate JBG for this success.”

Thursday, October 1, 2015

MoCo residents on ITA at public hearing: "This is a lunatic idea"

Residents opposing the proposed Independent Transit Authority at last night's Transit Task Force public hearing again heavily outnumbered proponents of the unelected taxing authority, and Bus Rapid Transit.

What stands out is how the Montgomery County political machine is starting to sound more desperate as the ITA battle rages on. As Silver Spring resident Larry Dickter noted in his testimony, the ITA has "little if any public support." Even County Council President George Leventhal has suggested that the ITA bill not be submitted to the state legislature at this time. It's unclear what support the ITA has on the County Council or among Montgomery County legislators at this point, following 3 public hearings at which said public has overwhelmingly slammed the idea.

How desperate are ITA proponents? They're criticizing opponents for being white. You can't make this stuff up folks. Tom Liderto of Takoma Park, an ITA and BRT proponent, said that whites now make up less than half of the population in the county, but were the vast majority of the citizens testifying. He advised the task force that they might be hearing "a lot of loud voices from a minority."

A sure sign of desperation is when you have to pull out the race card. Your initiative has no public support, and a majority turns out to oppose it? Start attacking the crowd on the basis of race, age, etc. "I wanted to testify. But I'm white. So, I'd better do the right thing and stay home."

Likewise, it's intriguing to hear a particular faction of the County's Democratic Party adopt the talking points of Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. The so-called silent majority Liderto was referring to is gaining popularity as a talking point among that group. County Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson and former Leventhal staff member and blogger Dan Reed are among those who have cited a silent majority, who they say fervently favor the urban density, urbanization of the suburbs and war-on-cars transportation policies Anderson and Reed are advocating for.

Perhaps in the same county where Councilmember Hans Riemer takes a $500 campaign check from Mitt Romney's Bain Capital and $4000 from Mitch Rales, two Wall Street pioneers in outsourcing American jobs to China, this shouldn't be all that surprising, I guess.

Does a millennial telling older residents in the room that they should stop opposing BRT because he'll be alive in the coming decades and they won't sound kind of desperate? Yep. Cold, but desperate.

You'd be pretty desperate, too, if you were in their position.

The hearing wasn't all that far along, when task force Chair Mark Winston felt compelled to engage Montgomery County Civic Federation President Paula Bienenfeld in a back-and-forth exchange over how she should testify. Bienenfeld had already shown up the task force for its hypocrisy when asking who among them took transit to the hearing. Only Delegate Marc Korman (D-District 16) raised his hand. Do as we say, not as we do.

"We're not here to respond to questions," Winston advised Bienenfeld. "I believe you can answer questions," Bienenfeld responded, noting that taxpayers are funding the task force.

Do as we say, not as we do. It was a bit of a theme last night. Another proponent of BRT recalled that he and wife quit working at Montgomery College's Rockville campus "twenty years ago," because the drive from Takoma Park each morning was too stressful. Wait a minute. The Red Line runs from Takoma Park to Rockville. Even in 1995. If they didn't use transit then, why would they use an even-slower kind of transit now?

A very expensive kind of transit, in fact, especially when you break the cost down per rider and there's no indication there will be many.

Resident Kevin Harris, who is also a former planner with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said there has been "no data presented to show that BRT would solve the problems we're facing. We still have not been presented with the most basic traffic data" to justify BRT. The economic development numbers cited by Sage Consulting were "completely implausible," Harris said, terming Sage's work "wildly irresponsible modeling."

Harris questioned the task force's objectivity and and accuracy, "if you've already made your recommendations without data." "Performance metrics have never been established," Michael Pfetsch of Pinewood said.

Jerry Garson, resident and MCCF Treasurer, also questioned the task force's numbers. "I'm a CPA," Garson marveled, and "I can't figure it out." He pointed out that the task force calculations show "no administrative costs in the first five years of operation," an impossibility.

Silver Spring resident Carole Ann Barth took a creative approach in skewering the ITA's political and developer allies, casting them as "greedy piggies" in a fable-style tale, whose grand plan for pulling one over on residents doesn't end well.

Another resident, Harold McDougall, said he and his neighbors are "afraid of losing our homes" to an eminent domain grab by a future ITA for BRT. "We're tired. We're just depressed," he said. He noted that BRT was ginned up by a small interest group of developers and "Rockefeller-funded advocacy groups. There's big shots on one side, and little people on the other."

Many felt the task force has failed to consider any other solution but BRT and the ITA. Harriet Quinn of Silver Spring said the task force approach "excludes a comprehensive look at our overall transportation needs." Dickter argued the County would be better off improving existing roads and Ride On, "instead of obsessing over [BRT]."

A large number of speakers promoted similar alternatives: free Ride On service (which would cost a fraction of what is proposed to be spent on BRT, has none of the administrative or personnel costs BRT and the ITA would add, and has proven successful on Metro, where diehard riders are those who receive free or heavily-subsized fare on the system), completing unbuilt master plan highways like the M-83 Midcounty Highway Extended (and shamefully tabled recently by the Leggett administration), car sharing services like Uber and Lyft, Bridj, Express Metrobus and RideOn Plus services (these are existing proposals), autonomous vehicles (in the future), and using technology to make roads and transit systems more efficient as Houston has done successfully, without spending billions or even millions.

Robert Nelson of the Goshen area said, "I see very little benefit to our area" in the Upcounty, noting that the M-83 would be far faster for Goshen residents trying to reach the Shady Grove Metro station than the BRT system.

Jean Cavanaugh of Silver Spring was one of many who cited residents' "rapidly-rising tax burden." That burden is increasingly a regressive one, and four of the five task force report's revenue proposals would tax residents.

Do we need four new taxes to pay?

The League of Women Voters thinks we need five. Barbara Ditzler, representing the LWV, argued for new income, property, vehicle, development and fuel taxes.

This, on top of an already-looming property tax increase warned of by Leggett for next year.

Putting the ITA on the ballot to be decided by voters was suggested by several speakers, including James Williamson of Silver Spring. "Doesn't he trust the voters," Williamson asked of Leggett.

Eric Hensal termed the ITA debacle "red light district politics" by developer-funded elected officials who "cannot build a parking deck in Silver Spring." The ultimate goal of the ITA scheme, Hensal predicted, is to "socialize cost and privatize gains for the developer community."

Cherrywood HOA President Paul Jarosinski similarly described the ITA and BRT as a "bonanza for developers." The ITA sounds like "a good script for a crime movie," Jarosinski observed. "A parallel shadow government agency where you handpick five stooges."

Robin Ficker of Boyds, the man most responsible for the successful passage of the charter limit on property taxes approved by voters on the 2008 ballot, testified as well. "The Council is made up of a group of scaredy cats," Ficker said, delivering his remarks standing at the table as he does in court as a prominent attorney. "They're scaredy cats, because they know they can unanimously vote to exceed the charter limit," Ficker said, and would prefer an elected ITA take the heat from taxpayers instead. "They can never get enough money. That's all this is about."

Ficker also ripped the county's delegation to the state legislature for their failure to return sufficient transportation dollars to the County. "They're not doing their job in Annapolis," Ficker declared.

Stephen Poor summed up the feelings of most in the room, telling the task force, "You should just stop."

Pinning the future on BRT ignores the reality that cars are, and will continue to be, the dominant mode of transportation well into the future. Todd Solomon, who actually favors BRT, noted that - according to the Federal Highway Administration - a record number of vehicle miles were traveled by Americans in the first 6 months of 2015. And that a monthly record was just set this summer.

It doesn't sound like mass numbers of Americans will be "getting out of their cars" anytime soon. But will Montgomery County's elected officials be getting their hands out of our wallets?

Same answer.

The next move by the task force will be to begin their final review of the public draft report at their October 7 meeting.