The future of not only Montgomery Mall but the entire Rock Spring area is looking very bright. The entire area has approved plans for a whole new look!
Background and Context
After the completion of I-270 in the 1960s, Rock Spring gradually began to establish itself as one of Montgomery County’s premier office parks and employment centers. In the 1970s, when Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) and IBM located in Rock Spring, pastoral, campus-style office parks were in vogue. Lockheed Martin’s world headquarters has been in Rock Spring in a secured and gated complex on Rockledge Drive for 40 years. IBM initially had a large presence in the area, with five office buildings designed as a cohesive architectural complex encircling a pond and a pedestrian path. In 1979, Marriott International established its corporate headquarters at its current location on Fernwood Road. The Davis-Camalier family has deep roots in the area and built numerous office buildings in Rock Spring in the 1980s and 1990s. By the 1980s, Rock Spring had become the gateway to the I-270 technology corridor, with large, thriving corporate offices occupied by professional services and consulting firms.
By the late 2000s, the premier status of the Rock Spring office park began to weaken and office vacancy rates began to climb. The current office vacancy rate in Rock Spring is 22.3 percent, higher than the Countywide vacancy rate of 15 percent. Rock Spring’s office vacancy rate has remained above 19 percent since 2009. Marriott International plans to relocate its headquarters from Rock Spring to a transit proximate location, most likely downtown Bethesda. The relocation of Marriott, which occupies 808,000 square feet at its headquarters in Rock Spring, would boost the office park’s vacancy rate to 39 percent, if there were no other changes.
Challenges specific to Montgomery County’s office market include an increase in telecommuting; federal budget cuts and shrinking workspace footprints; regional competition from the District of Columbia and Tysons.
Plans for Montgomery Mall
Plans, which were first announced in the fall of 2018, include 2.9 million square feet of new retail space and 717 residences.
Most of the construction will occur on the northern side of the property, along Westlake Terrace, which has parking lots and two vacant Sears stores.
On a 59-acre site northwest of the I-270 and Democracy Boulevard interchange, the project is projected to be completed in three phases spanning a decade.
The project is led by global developer Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW), which owns the mall.
The first phase includes construction of a “woonerf,” the project’s “defining feature,” according to Planning Board documents.
Woonerf is a Dutch term for a street that provides “equal usability for all different modes of travel,” according to Planning Department staff. The thoroughfare provides as much room for pedestrians as it does for vehicles.
The project’s first phase will also include the demolition of two vacant Sears stores and construction of 127,800 square feet of retail space in a plaza external to the mall.
Also included are a four-level, 135,492-square-foot fitness center on the eastern portion of the property; a 100-foot-tall building with 413 residences; a new bike path along Westlake Terrace and a parking garage.
The second phase includes construction of an 85-foot-tall mixed-use building with 240 residences and ground-floor retail.
Details about the third phase have not been finalized. However, developers envision construction of a three-level retail store at the corner of Westlake Drive and Westlake Terrace and a 50,000-square-foot extension of the existing Macy’s department store, which will be home to a Macy’s Home Store.
The third phase would also include a new 150-foot-tall hotel and residential building. The first seven floors would have 261 hotel rooms and 35,000 square feet of amenity space, while the top four floors would have 64 residences. The building would have ground-floor retail.
Approval of the Westfield Montgomery project was put on hold in 2019 as the Walter Johnson High School cluster was under a moratorium due to crowded schools.
Building moratoriums prohibit the Planning Board from approving new projects that produce new residences, except in certain circumstances.
Before voting to approve the project on Thursday, Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson said, “The only thing that would make this project better is if it were in Wheaton,” referring to Westfield Wheaton mall, also owned by URW.
Jim Agliata, Westfield’s vice president of development, said the company believes “there’s an opportunity to do something similar there” and is looking into the possibility.
He said differences in development taxes between Bethesda and Wheaton pose a challenge.
An attorney representing the developers said, “If it ends up being a profitable endeavor, URW is definitely supportive of doing something in Wheaton, as well.”
In an interview in December 2018, Agliata told Bethesda Beat that the Westfield Montgomery project is expected to cost “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
At the time, Agliata said he believed upscale restaurants and retailers that historically have had only an online presence will move into the redeveloped space, though he did not name specific potential tenants.