A future under construction

Amanda Orr, spokeswoman for New England Development, the company developing the project, is working with the Shops at Wisconsin Place project, a feat four-and-a half years in the making. The center includes high-end retailers such as MAC Cosmetics and Sephora, as well as White House/Black Market, among others.

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“The county was redoing rezoning to increase the density to encourage development at the Metro,” said David Gilmore, senior vice president of New England Development. “The area was a great retail location for all the great retailers on Wisconsin Avenue and just off of it. It’s a great location for housing and offices as well.” The county’s goal was for the area to be a significant gateway to the county from the District.

“We are looking at the community and their needs,” Orr said. “So many people are being pushed out to Rockville, Tysons and Georgetown. We are looking to make a great place for working moms and dads as well as young people looking for a place to eat before or after a movie.”

Orr said that the Shops at Wisconsin Place is looking for retail pieces the community didn’t have anywhere else. Bloomingdale’s, which has been open for a year, anchors the facility.

“Giggle and Ilori are exclusive to the area,” Orr said. “Giggle sells eco-friendly baby through age-4 gear and is based in San Francisco, and Ilori sells high-end sunglasses.”
There are also more traditional retail outlets scattered about the facility, including Talbots and Eileen Fisher. BCBG Max Azria recently opened and Anthropologie just signed a lease to be in the center.

“All of the art at the shops is designed by local artist Athena Tacha,” Orr said. “The obelisk and fountain at the main plaza should be up within a month.”
Gilmore said that Tacha’s work adds greatly to street life at the shops. “It will be a place for people to congregate, especially at the fountain in front of Bloomingdale’s,” he said. “The LED-lit arcade near Cole Haan and the tower in front of Whole Foods on Willard Avenue will be great additions to the community as well.”

Tacha, an internationally known environmental artist, worked closely with New England Development and she lives not more than a mile from the site.

“The project is creating a lot more green space in what was previously a 100 percent paved area,” Gilmore said. There will also be outdoor cafes near the fountain and underneath the arcade, as well as one overlooking Willard.

The project is reusing an existing building site, creating a lot more green space in what was a paved area.

The restaurants at the Shops will include a Tasting Room Wine Café as well as a Capital Grille, both open later this fall. There will also be a Tynan Coffee and Tea shop. “We’d like to appeal to a wide group of people. The goal is you don’t have to drive to a mall and be confined inside of it,” Orr said.

In spring 2010, Whole Foods plans to open a branch behind the Shops at Wisconsin Place on Willard Avenue. “I live in the area and although there’s a Tenleytown and River Road Whole Foods, the fact that this one will be spanking-new and shoppers can grab other things at additional stores will be appealing,” Orr said.

In addition to shops and retailers, the Montgomery County Parks and Recreation Center recently opened a facility with a gym, meeting space and basketball court. Orr said that those interested in using the facilities can pay a low monthly fee. Microsoft and one other company will together fill up the office space at the shops, making the building run by Archstone 90 percent full.

There are also luxury apartment buildings at the center as well. “The building is leasing very well,” Gilmore said.

When asked if she thinks the novelty will wear off in a few years for the new facilities, Orr said that the novelty of Mazza Gallerie, a neighboring shopping facility, hasn’t worn off for her. “Driving or walking down the street and seeing this huge mix of stores is a huge perk for this area,” she said.

Gilmore said that New England Development has a close relationship with neighborhood groups such as the Village of Friendship Heights. “The reaction to the new openings has been very positive,” he said.

While Chevy Chase seems to be gaining its fair share of new stores and restaurants, Bethesda is not far behind. What was formerly an industrial area with railroad lines running near the Crescent Trail, Bethesda is now a booming suburban haven.
New additions include Equinox, a sport and health club that Janelle Stevenson, corporate communications manager for Federal Realty, the company that manages Bethesda Row, hopes will be a draw for local residents.

Ralph Ours, leasing associate for Federal Realty, said that the main aim of Bethesda is to create a downtown feel in a suburban atmosphere. “It’s more boutiques and not necessarily national chains,” he said. “We do have some chains like Barnes & Noble and Apple thrown in, but we aim to make Bethesda Row feel like a downtown area but less urban.”
Chains that plan to get into the area are Five Guys Burgers and Fries, a popular franchise.

Bethesda Row seems to have a trend of stores found in other areas of the city that make additional stores their home, echoing the downtown yet less urban ideal. For example, John Tschiderer, vice president of development for Federal Realty, said that Georgetown Cupcake plans to arrive by November. Stewart Biel, leasing associate, said that a men’s shirt and tie shop in Dupont Circle will be moving an additional store in to the Bethesda area soon.

“Vapiano, an Italian pizza, pasta and salad restaurant, will also be opening in the area next year,” Biel said.

Sweetgreen, also located in Dupont Circle, opened an additional salad and frozen yogurt shop over the summer.

Bethesda Lane being completely closed off to traffic gives a sense of a European, pedestrian-friendly feel, Ours said. “The seating on the inside of the lane gives it a sense of a European street.”