Tuesday, March 27, 2007

doug duncan, savior of college park?

BUT FIRST: We asked Duchy Trachtenberg to talk about transit and development, and instead we learned about public health and tax codes . . . we're still working on that profile.

Doug Duncan's back in the game, and this couldn't be a better time - or place. Just yesterday, the Diamondback reported that Doug Duncan - best known for doggedly spearheading the redevelopment of Downtown Silver Spring as Montgomery County executive - is going back to work, this time as VP of Administrative Affairs to the University of Maryland.

Recall that two weeks ago, we learned that Downtown Silver Spring developer Foulger-Pratt will be redeveloping the University of Maryland's East Campus, currently filled with service buildings and dorms a little past their prime. It looks like College Park really will be the new Silver SprUng.

Nonetheless, there are concerns that the Silver SprUng-ification of College Park - and the chain stores it brings - will destroy its character, or at least prevent future opportunities to create what Richard Layman calls "something organic." While I disagreed with his original assessment of the urbanity of Foulger-Pratt's earlier projects, he does make a good point later about the potential of a college town to remake itself, as has occurred in Ann Arbor, usually rated one of the best "college towns" in the country.

I do not think, though, that chain stores are a threat to a town that has little in the way of useful retail. MoCo state delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez may have complained to the Diamondback that Silver Spring "looks just like another Bethesda," I don't know a lot of people who aren't thankful for the new shopping and dining opportunities available Downtown. (And we will gladly take Downtown Silver Spring or College Park over Downtown Kensington, which Delegate Gutierrez represents, any day.)

Mom-and-pops are all good and well, but I doubt your average Long Island party girl who attends Maryland will want to shop for club clothes at a mom-and-pop. Before we talk about "rounding out" the retail offerings in College Park, we need to get a solid base in there - something that attract both students and people from the community at large. For better or for worse, that means chain stores - a Borders, an Urban Outfitters - which can bring in enough people to support smaller stores.

Keep in mind that College Park is far bigger than the three-block downtown on Route 1. The Hyattsville-College Park area is the nexus of North Prince George's County. If East Campus, with its potential to attract high-end, chain stores, is a threat to anything, it'll be to the University Town Center development currently going up in Hyattsville, or even the new Laurel Mall, both only a few miles away.

I suppose the best word is "complement." East Campus will have to complement the existing character of College Park, because as long as the bars are open, it can't change all that much. It'll also have to complement other developments in Hyattsville and Laurel. I don't know how much "neighborhood character" currently exists on Route 1. Big developers may not create an "organic" atmosphere, but at least it'll be more attractive than what we have now.


Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Dan, I won't speak for Delegate Gutierrez, but I would very much like to see a makeover to downtown Kensington. Kensington has a wonderful small-town character, with many incredibly passionate and active residents. What they don't have is anything resembling a downtown or town center.

My plan, and I realize it is nothing more than a dream at this point, is creating a town center similar to Dupont Circle. As central Kensignton exists on a significant hill, I believe Connecticut Ave could be tunnelled through that hill from south to north, leaving the ground level for local streets around a plaza. Similar examples exist at Dupont Circle and Thomas Circle in DC, segments of North Capitol Street north of the Capitol, and various exemplars in Europe, with Dizengoff Circle in Tel-Aviv as a standout.

Kensington, with its wealth of antique stores, will never be another Bethesda or Silver Spring. But it can be an incredible place to visit as well as to live. But it will take vision and leadership.

Anonymous said...

Good luck to the U of MD... they'll need it with Duncan running things... and you thought tuition was high already?! At least, he's out of MD politics, thank God.

Anonymous said...

Item suggestion

About the failure of the condos in the downtown rockville redevlopment to sell. Looks just like the old rockville mall 40 years later with the aquistion of private property to build a massive development, and the problem in getting occupants as well as major tenants, like a department store in the old mall and a grocery store in the new complex.

Also, will you do an item on the County Council agreement to allow the developer of Clarksburg not to pay promised impact fees of 60 mil and just put it on the taxes of the people who purchased property in there.

thecourtyard said...

RE: Rockville Town Square

The market for condos is slowing in Rockville, but it has to do with demand, not the redevelopment. It's slowing all across the country. I'm not worried - it's a good location, and in a few years, they might convert the buildings to condos again. I do feel bad for the buyers now, though.

RE: Clarksburg.

I did read about that, and I think it's pretty ridiculous - but it's not really my jurisdiction to cover.