Doris Prather sat outside restaurant in Rockville Town Square on a recent evening, eating pizza with her grandchildren and listening to a band.
Prather, a lifelong Rockville resident, said she visits Town Square often, whether for a morning cup of coffee or dinner at one of the 21 restaurants.
“I come with my grandkids. They like to play. I sit and people watch,” she said.
celebrated its fifth anniversary last month. With restaurants, stores, offices, apartments and the county’s flagship , it was designed to position the city as a great place to live and work. It was built for $360 million as a public-private partnership of the , and .
Following at least two failed attempts at creating a town center, the latest one is working, said Executive Director Andrea Jolly.
“It’s definitely a success because it’s helping make Rockville a destination,” she said. “I think it’s doing well now and that portents even better things in the future.”
Students from nearby Richard Montgomery High School use Town Square as a place to meet. Young families enjoy the children’s activities and library. Older adults come for the free concerts, shopping and restaurants, said Robin McBride, Federal Realty Investment Trust vice president for the Mid-Atlantic region.
“Me and my friends come here almost all the time to hang out and eat,” said Jasmine Smith, 17, of Rockville, a recent Richard Montgomery graduate. “It’s a fun place, a really safe place to hang out.”
Theresa Tankersley, a regular visitor, was in Town Square for with her son, Kevin, 8. She said she likes the small-town atmosphere of the Town Square, and seeing teens, dog walkers and older folks.
Rockville Town Square has gone through a learning curve in its first five years that is typical for any new shopping center, McBride said. As one store or .
“When you’re building something from the ground up, it’s all about changing customer patterns, creating a destination when there are 15,000 other options they can go to,” she said.
Figuring out the market and what it wanted took a little trial and error, she said.
“One of the really nice things is the variety of restaurants, ethnicities and price ranges—all good,” Jolly said.
The diversity of offerings makes Town Square unique, McBride said.
Pomegranate & Co., a furniture and accessory store, moved from Bethesda into Town Square in spring 2007, one of the first stores to open.
“This is a great location,” owner Leigh Ky said.
Centrally-located between Gaithersburg and Bethesda and convenient to Metro, people have no trouble finding the store, she said. The first year of business was great, then the recession hit and people put home decorating projects on hold, Ky said.
The city has been very supportive with , she said.
“This is a very special and unique place in the sense people support the businesses,” Ky said. “There’s a lot of potential and growth in this whole area.”
She would like more stores to come in to lure business from restaurant patrons.
Like Pomegranate & Co., when Lebanese Taverna opened in 2007, it was an already-established restaurant after more than 30 years in business, said manager Claude Merhi.
Federal Realty’s promotion of free events and advertising for the district helps business, she said.
“This place will be frequented by everybody if they keep up the good work,” Merhi said.
Parking had been a problem at Town Square. The city managed the garage, but was not charging what fiscal analysts said was needed to pay off the bonds issued to cover Rockville’s share of development costs.
Federal Realty a year ago. Once it had control of the parking, it arranged for restaurants and merchants to offer customers two hours of free parking. That helped attract and the long-sought grocer, Dawson’s Market, which will open in October, McBride said.
“I think the city is trilled,” Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said. “It’s wonderful to have a busy, energetic, environmentally-friendly downtown.”
Once all the stores are open in Town Square, the city will turn its attention to and around the old post office building, she said. The and a future hotel will make a difference to businesses, Marcuccio said.
“We’re really excited about where Rockville is and couldn’t be happier about Dawson’s Market opening in two months,” McBride said. “The next five [years] will be even greater than the last five. It’s just hitting its stride.”
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