That much is clear after a few furious weeks of back-and-forth between the major developers reshaping the area thanks to new zoning and land use policies hashed out in the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan.
In spite of that master plan and the county government’s consistent use of “White Flint” in its budget documents and advisory boards, those involved say the issue of what to call the place has been apparent for almost a decade. It came to a head about a month ago, when Montgomery County Regional Services Director Ken Hartman sent out a draft of a logo for MetroWhiteFlint.org.
But many of the area’s developers think the White Flint name is too closely tied to White Flint Mall — a claim White Flint Mall-owning Lerner Enterprises disagrees with. Hartman’s email set off a stream of activity, much of it initiated by Federal Realty Investment Trust, which is building Pike & Rose at a separate site on the old Mid-Pike shopping center.
“People always ask me about when we’re going to tear down [White Flint] Mall,” said Evan Goldman, vice president of development for Federal Realty. “We can’t have a grand opening at Pike & Rose and have everyone go to the mall.”
Goldman, with the support of North Bethesda Market developer JBG, pitched the idea of a larger “Pike District,” (or something similar) that would cover the area around the White Flint Metro station and extend north along Rockville Pike past Montrose Parkway and the southern border of the City of Rockville. This would allow Lerner Enterprises to keep its White Flint name in the form of a smaller neighborhood within the larger commercial district.
According to Goldman, it appears Lerner Enterprises has come on board with the concept in the last week. Developers and residents will discuss the issue Thursday, at the annual meeting of The Friends of White Flint, and Friday, when developers in the White Flint Partnership gather to discuss potential neighborhood names.
Francine Waters, senior managing director for Lerner Enterprises and chair of the Downtown Committee, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday. In recent stories on the topic from the Washington Post and Bethesda Magazine, Waters said White Flint still has a strong name value.
“‘White Flint’ is well-established, creates a connection between the area’s past and future, is a name that resonates both locally and regionally, and casts a vision for transformation,” she told the Post and Bethesda Magazine.
Goldman said talks within the White Flint Partnership about branding and naming often broke down. He also said Federal Realty didn’t take a side until about two-and-a-half years ago, upon doing market research studies in preparation for Pike & Rose.
In a poll of 500 people and in focus groups, Goldman said the Rockville-based developer found about an even split when it came to naming the area White Flint or North Bethesda. But the developer found many who lived just outside the Rockville Pike core have “an authenticity problem” with the name White Flint.
The Pike District concept would include the roughly 400-acre White Flint Sector Plan area, but also Federal Realty’s Montrose Crossing shopping center and Congressional Plaza, plus JBG’s ongoing Twinbrook Station project.
“We don’t want to turn our backs on the Pike,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, a senior marketing manager at Federal Realty.
Rodriguez made Federal’s case at a May 13 meeting of the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee, a group chaired by Waters. Rodriguez’s request that the committee reconsider using White Flint in its branding caught a few members by surprise.
“We knew this was sitting out there, but no one had brought this up. No one had come to the advisory committee and pitched an alternative,” said Hartman, who is a non-voting member of the committee. “The good thing is that we’re not that far along.”
Hartman is staying neutral, as is Friends of White Flint Executive Director Lindsay Hoffman. The nonprofit includes residents, business representatives, Goldman, Waters and representatives from JBG and LCOR on its board of directors.
On Thursday, Hoffman sent an email to followers titled “It’s Time To Name this Place:”
Friends of White Flint has been around for about seven years now and, during this whole period, a quiet debate has raged about what this place we’re building should be called. Sure, the planning department named the sector plan White Flint but many folks call this stretch of land North Bethesda or Rockville. Billions of dollars are being invested in this suburban retrofit but we still have no name for the destination being created. …
While many call this a “renaming” process, we suggest a different perspective. How can you “rename” something that doesn’t yet have a name that everyone agrees upon? Now’s the time to bring our community together with one name.
On June 10, the Downtown Advisory Committee will meet and talk about the issue again. Goldman hopes to win the group’s support.
While the broad concept is gaining traction, other issues remain. Hartman said the county hasn’t yet talked to the City of Rockville about what a new urban district that reaches into its jurisdiction might mean. The White Flint Metro station — which Goldman said could be modified to include some sort of Pike District label — is another aspect.
Then there’s the question of dueling zip codes, which Hartman said was a more pressing problem.
“Even if we all settle on Pike District and we say south of city limits, there are still other decision points,” Hartman said. “I don’t know where we’re going to end up. If the property owners agree to a consensus decision, then I think the public will go along with it. I wish it was as easy as Bethesda, where you have a historic name and things that identify this place as Bethesda.