REDI in Retrospect: Selling Rockville
Economic development sometimes means helping developers to promote the city.
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth part of a six-part look at Rockville Economic Development, Inc. during the tenure of former executive director Sally Sternbach. Sternbach left REDI last week to become deputy director of the county’s Department of Economic Development. Before her departure, Rockville Patch sat down for an interview with Sternbach and associate director Lynne Benzion, who took over as REDI’s acting executive director this month.
Rockville Economic Development, Inc. doesn’t focus much on the developer community, though it is a resource for developers, said Sally Sternbach, who, after nine years as executive director of REDI, left last week to become deputy director of the county's Department of Economic Development.
“We are always a resource to the development community if we can be helpful to them and when we can be helpful to them,” Sternbach said. “By in large, they are a pretty well-oiled machine. And we tend to work farther out. So, we try not to duplicate what the commercial sector, private sector, is already doing.”
REDI is involved in efforts to fill empty laboratory space in county business incubators, while leaving initiatives such as Rockville Pike redevelopment to the private sector.
“We really have a view out about 10 years,” in areas not addressed by current market forces, said Lynne Benzion, REDI's former associate director, who took over as the nonprofit's acting executive director upon Sternbach's departure.
Sometimes businesses find you, Benzion said. A British company emailed Info@RockvilleREDI.org. It became a tenant of the incubator.
REDI has taken an active role in advocating for Rockville.
At the request of Federal Realty Investment Trust, REDI stepped in to sell Rick Hood, owner of Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market in Richmond, Va., on opening a market in Rockville Town Square.
Dawson’s Market is due to open this summer.
“We’ve—quote—sold Rockville, to other people who were looking at the opportunity for some projects here,” Sternbach said. “And we’re very happy to do that. But if the development community doesn’t need us for that, then we’ll go build our sandcastles in places where nobody’s working.”
REDI has met with developer of the former Syms clothing store site near the Twinbrook Metro station and with developers of “projects that haven’t gone forward,” Sternbach said. “So there are probably three, four, five, [projects that don't get built] for every one that goes.”
The success rate speaks to an aspect of development that is unappreciated by the public, Sternbach said. There is “almost the magic that goes into getting a project—particularly a mixed-use project—put together that works," she said. "And it’s just very challenging— very exciting, but very challenging. [It takes] long, long lead time, very high risk, and therefore, you hope, also high reward.”
Tomorrow: Where the conversation goes.