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 By Simmons B. Buntin


Just the Facts

Rockville Town Square
Rockville, Maryland

  • Located 15 miles north of Washington, D.C.
  • Project grand opening May 2007; public dedication and retail grand opening July 2007
  • 12.5 acres; full town center redevelopment is 60 acres
  • Six-block urban infill featuring 28,000-square-foot public plaza with pavilion and water feature
  • 102,000-square-foot county library and five-story VisArts arts and business innovation center
  • 644 residential units (152 condos and 492 apartments, ranging in size from 553 to 2,225 square feet); 96 units “moderately priced”
  • 181,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and grocery store
  • Three public/private parking garages
  • Direct access to Rockville Metro Plaza (separate project) and Metrorail, plus nearby access to Amtrak / Maryland Area Regional Commuter Train
  • Development cost: $352 million ($264 million private and $88 million public funding)
  • Developed by RD Rockville, LLC, a joint venture of Ross Development & Investment and the DANAC Corporation
  • Public partners include City of Rockville and Montgomery County (public funding also includes State of Maryland and federal government)
  • Retail development by Federal Realty Investment Trust
  • Architecture: WDG Architects (full project) and Grimm + Parker (library only)
  • General contractor: Whiting-Turner Contracting Company
  • Awards include Best Mixed-Use Project and Best Smart Growth Master Plan (Maryland /DC Chapter of National Association of Industrial and Office Properties), Best Implemented Project (National Capital Area Chapter of American Planning Association), Best Public/Private Partnership and Best New Urbanism (Multifamily Housing News), Best Mixed-Use Development Finalist (National Association of Homebuilders), 2008 Charter Award (Congress for New Urbanism) and 2008 Best Community Impact Finalist (Washington Business Journal)


Project Overview

Rockville Town Square

Featuring a dynamic library, residences above street-level retail, and a busy town square, Rockville Town Square has been called “the best New Urbanist center.”
Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.

Located in the Washington, D.C., inner suburb of Rockville, Maryland, Rockville Town Square is a 12.5-acre, transit-oriented redevelopment that replaces a failed shopping mall with a vibrant civic, retail and residential core.

Part of a larger public-private town center redevelopment that encompasses the nearby Rockville Metro Plaza (with its Metro Red Line access), Rockville Town Square features a broad town plaza, state-of-the-art library, arts and business innovation center and pedestrian-oriented shops and restaurants with condominiums and apartments above. The redevelopment incorporates a variety of facades and other architectural elements; a six-story clock tower; an inviting streetscape of wide sidewalks, street furniture and trees; parking garages utilizing an advanced parking guidance system; and close proximity to the Montgomery County Courthouse Historic District and Rockville’s central neighborhoods.

Rockville Town Square aims to complement the existing architecture and street patterns in the redeveloping town center area, expanding Maryland Avenue to create a “main street” adjacent to the public plaza. Additionally, the plaza serves as a focal point and gathering place, hosting a variety of outdoor events, from weekly farmers markets to the annual Rockville Uncorked wine and music festival.

Despite opening in the summer of 2007–when national economic decline was looming–and despite the closing of some Town Square retail since then, Rockville Town Square is a success: residential occupancy remains high and shops and restaurants are largely doing well. “We’ve been lucky to never have lingering vacancies in Town Square,” says Cindy Cotte Griffiths of Rockville Central. “Even in this struggling economy, Federal
Realty Investment Trust (Rockville Town Square’s retail developer) brings new businesses into the mix in quick order.”

In addition to the mix of shops and restaurants, the Rockville Memorial Library, Metropolitan Center for Visual Arts, Rockville Innovation Center and public plaza with its myriad events draw Rockville residents as well as visitors from across the metro area.

“The goal . . . is to create a heart and center for Rockville that wasn’t there,” said Rockville chief of redevelopment David Levy at the time of the project’s dedication in July 2007. “It’s a space where people can go and sit outside on a steamy mid-Atlantic summer evening and hang out.”

History and Planning: From Mall to Town Center

Rockville Town Square site plan.

The Rockville Town Center (Rockville Town Square in yellow, Rockville Metro Plaza in mauve) site plan. Click image to view larger version.
Graphic courtesy City of Rockville.

Rockville Town Square is the latest and most comprehensive redevelopment of downtown Rockville, an area that has struggled to find success and identity for the last 50 years. In 1962, the city received federal funding to undertake “urban renewal” on a 46-acre portion of the city’s commercial core, resulting in the demolition of much of the city’s historic urban fabric. Over the next 20 years, Rockville constructed multistory apartments, county buildings, high-rise office buildings, and the 55-store Rockville Mall.

The mall opened in 1972 on 13 acres, but seemed destined to fail from the beginning. Though it was designed to house two anchors, only one could be contracted and that store–Lansburgh’s–closed after just one year. Though it was replaced by another local department store and eventually a furniture clearance center, the mall continued to struggle. By 1981, three years after the mall was renamed the Commons at Courthouse Square, 35 storefronts were vacant. According to Alan David Doane of, the Rockville Mall’s demise was the result of many factors, from inaccessible location to a reputation of crime and poor maintenance. For example, “[s]hoppers who did find the entrance to the mall’s parking garage . . . found the garage dark, intimidating, and confusing, and the garage gained a reputation as friendly criminal element,” he writes. In noting that a police substation was later added to the dying mall, he writes that “the unfortunate police officers assigned to this location suffered from the mall’s horrible maintenance, publicizing that live roaches regularly blew out of vents into the substation.”

In 1983, $50 million was invested by a local firm to redevelop the mall and adjacent area as Rockville Metro Center. A large United Artist theater complex, a billiards parlor, and restaurants were added, bridging access from Metro’s Rockville Red Line transit station to the mall. Though the theater has been a success, the mall itself, anchoring the western portion of the Metro Center, could not recover and was demolished in 1995, following a campaign by Rockville mayor and (later) Montgomery County executive Doug Duncan, who successfully argued that the mall was inhibiting downtown redevelopment.

Before the mall was demolished, the city officially condemned the structure and relocated a number of businesses, reaching settlement agreements with individual property owners to move the redevelopment process along. Though the city’s actions were legally challenged, Rockville’s right to condemn the properties was upheld in court because “the project incorporates true public uses, including four municipal parking facilities, a public square and a new regional library–fulfilling the requirements of Maryland’s relatively liberal eminent domain statute,” writes commercial real estate legal expert Pamela V. Rothenberg in the Journal of Property Management.

The city spent nearly $8 million to assist condemned businesses in moving elsewhere, with the goal of having many of the businesses return to Rockville Town Square once complete. Several did. Other challenges faced the city, as well. A polluted former gas station on the site needed remediation so the property could be designated as “clean,” while the city also worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to redirect an existing streambed. Removal and reinstallation of utility lines and work on the stream and other portions of the site necessitated the removal of several hundred thousand cubic yards of soil, which was then used as backfill during construction.

The town square is an active space inside and out in all seasons. Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.

The town square is an active space inside and out in all seasons.
Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.

The Rockville Town Square development was enabled through the city’s adoption of the Town Center Master Plan in 2001. The master planning process was led by city planning staff in conjunction with planning consultants Development Concepts, Inc. and infrastructure developers HNTB. But visioning for a redeveloped Rockville town center began well before, with the initial work by Duncan. A Potomac Almanac article published in conjunction with the Town Square’s dedication notes that “[b]efore construction even started on the town square, debates on what to do with Rockville’s town center had been raging for decades, even preceding the building of the Rockville Mall.”

The Town Center Master Plan was created during a nine-month process comprised of stakeholder interviews, Town Center Action Team meetings, feedback from the Greater Rockville Partnership (now Rockville Economic Development, Inc.), public surveys and a large open house held in September 2000. The open house incorporated four interactive stations to facilitate public discussion and solicit feedback:

  • Existing Conditions and Planned Developments
  • Development Framework
  • Transportation and Circulation
  • Urban Design Elements

At the stations, attendees prioritized previously prepared goal statements. According to the results of the public feedback gathered during this process, the favored elements to include in the Town Center were mixed-use development, around-the-clock activity and a pedestrian-oriented character.

Following the September public meeting, the city formed a 24-member Master Plan Advisory Group, which was charged with interacting directly with the consultant planning team. The Advisory Group consisted of residents, developers, property owners, business leaders and representatives from public entities including the city, Montgomery County, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro), Maryland State Highway
Administration, Rockville Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Rockville Partnership.

The Advisory Group created an overarching goal and set of nine objectives articulated in the Town Center Master Plan:

Town Center Master Plan Goal

Create a daytime, evening and weekend activity center that is easily identifiable, pedestrian-oriented and incorporates a mix of uses and activities.

  • Provide an environment conducive to and supportive of living, working, shopping and entertainment
  • Accommodate a variety of densities and scales of development that are sensitive to an urban neighborhood environment and the demands of the marketplace
  • Enhance links to transportation options which improve their visibility and accessibility
  • Provide improved connections from neighborhoods to the Town Center
  • Minimize the intrusiveness of Rockville Pike and the Metro and CSX rail lines
  • Make the Town Center a unique, high-amenity destination for local and regional customers
  • Utilize urban design to establish zoning and density requirements that will assist in defining the Rockville Town Center
  • Provide sufficient parking for new mixed-use development and visitors to the Town Center
  • Address integrating new aesthetic public parking garages with linkages from road networks

Rockville Town Square entrance.

Artwork, retail, and residential at Rockville Town Square’s southern entrance.
Photo by Simmons Buntin.

The Town Center Master Plan included not only the site of Rockville Town Square, but also the adjacent 2.5-acre Rockville Metro Plaza owned by Foulger-Pratt (the eastern portion of the original Rockville Metro Center). The Town Center is the first phase of a larger Rockville town center redevelopment by the city. The Plaza is slated to hold 600,000 square feet of office place; so far, only one of three approved office buildings has been constructed.

The Master Plan also includes an Action Plan that defines 13 tasks–from creating a tax-increment finance district to establishing a tracking system that monitors the area’s mix of uses. The Master Plan provides for zoning changes and creates Design Guidelines for use in a new urban design overlay district. With sections detailing site layout, building scale and massing, fenestration, parking design and signage, the Design Guidelines hope to achieve seven objectives: 1) Celebrate Maryland Avenue as the Town Center centerpiece through the use of outstanding and creative design solutions; 2) Celebrate Washington Street north of Jefferson Street as a high-quality, mixed-use street that serves as an appropriate transition to the residential neighborhoods; 3) Bring buildings up to the street edge and reinforce a sense of urban enclosure by placing parking behind buildings; 4) Encourage high-quality materials in all aspects of site and building development; 5) Incorporate open space (landscaping and/or plazas) into private building plans; 6) Create streetscapes and public spaces that feel comfortable to pedestrians by encouraging inclusion of open space and/or green spaces; 7) Utilize traditional storefront design techniques wherever possible; maximize opportunities for street activity by incorporating open and inviting ground floors.

Financing: Tapping Local, State, and Federal Resources

After the Master Plan was approved in October 2001, city staff worked with county, state and federal agencies to obtain financial commitments for the Town Center’s first phase–Rockville Town Square. In total, $352 million was spent in the development of Rockville Town Square over the life of the project: $264 million in private funding and $88 million in public funding, including $60 million total from the city (with $40 million designated for streets, sidewalks and public parking garages). The county funded the library, at a cost of $26.3 million, and contributed $12 million over six years toward project infrastructure costs. Maryland state government contributed several million more dollars for infrastructure and a public parking garage, and the federal government provided funding for pedestrian improvements.

With initial public funding commitments in place, a preliminary development plan based on the Master Plan’s Design Guidelines was created. The plan specified elements such as library, residential, retail and open space locations. It also led to a design competition in June 2002 that was sponsored by the city and Federal Realty–which owned and operated Rockville Mall and partnered with the city on town center redevelopment. After considering about a half-dozen submissions from national development firms, the city and Federal Realty selected as their private development partner RD Rockville, a collaboration of Ross Development & Investment and DANAC Corporation of Bethesda, Maryland. A general development agreement was signed by the city, county, RD Rockville and Federal Realty in January 2003, and construction began the following year.

Developers pursued an equity partner in 2003, but RD Rockville ended up taking on “pure debt–consisting of two first mortgages (because the deal was so large) and a mezzanine loan–with . . . five percent of the equity as cash upfront,” according to the Urban Land Institute. In all, private loans of $34 million, $103.2 million and $73.6 million were secured by RD Rockville before and during construction.

Between 2002 and 2004, project planners held more than 40 public meetings. “This persistent effort to educate the community–as well as strong support from the mayor and council–created public support for the project, which many citizens originally opposed,” reports the Urban Land Institute. The Town Square’s architectural design was created by WDG Architecture, with the exception of the library and Arts and Innovation Center. Construction of Rockville Town Square spanned two and a half years. The project’s grand opening was held in May 2007, followed by a public dedication and retail grand opening in July, when the redevelopment project was praised by Maryland’s governor “as a way to revive the aging suburb,” write Katherine Shaver and Miranda S. Spivack in The Washington Post.

Public Events Make the Town Square Lively

Town Square activity and Innovation Center.

Activity on the Town Square, in front of the Innovation Center.
Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.

At the heart of Rockville Town Square is a 28,000-square-foot public plaza. The plaza, modeled after the central piazzas of walkable Italian cities, features a pavilion that can serve as a bandstand and lighted stage, a water feature with interactive fountain, sculptures and other public art, a grassy area with rock garden and trees and wide patios that front the surrounding multistory buildings and pedestrian-oriented streets.

The plaza is bordered on the north by the regional library and ground-level shops and restaurants; on the south by ground-level shops, restaurants and multistory residential; on the west by Gibbs Street; and on the east by the iconic six-story clock tower and Maryland Avenue, which serves as a kind of “main street” through the project. Shade trees and other plantings, benches and decorative railings and streetlights line the plaza and streets. In the winter–funding permitting–the plaza hosts an ice rink, as well.

The plaza is designed to encourage seating and gatherings, formal and otherwise and, like other successful New Urban developments, to foster chance encounters. “I love the Town Square because I can’t walk more than a couple feet without seeing someone I know from doing business,” says Robin Wiener, according to a 2010 Reuters article profiling the project. Wiener is president of Get Real Consulting, a business located within the town center. The article also notes how “[t]eenagers use Facebook to signal spur-of-the-moment break dance sessions on the town square’s bandstand because . . . it’s really the only place they can ‘hang out and break.’”

One of the reasons Rockville Town Square is considered a success is because of the city’s concerted efforts to bring in regular events and make the project an integrated part of the city. “This is not just any old shopping center,” said Levy at the grand opening. “This is downtown Rockville. It has a history and a past. This is not going to be just a generic place. There will be signature art, historical aspects and many other events that make it more than just another development.”

Those events include a variety of regular activities, such as First Friday deck parties atop the Arts and Business Innovation Center, summer concerts on the square, Wednesday and Saturday farmers markets, the Hometown Holidays festival, Memorial Day parade, Mommy & Me and Daddies Too gatherings on the square, and Pride in the Sky atop the Innovation Center.

One of the more intriguing events is Rockville Uncorked, the annual festival of wine and music held at Rockville Town Square. A dozen Maryland wineries participate in the late summer event, which in addition to wine tasting also features three stages of local and regional live music, a wine and cooking demonstration stage and other live performances.

For large events such as Rockville Uncorked, the public pedestrian space of the plaza can be expanded by closing off Gibbs Street and Maryland Avenue, which were specifically designed for periodic closures in support of such gatherings.

Library and Arts and Innovation Center

Rockville Memorial Library.

The Rockville Memorial Library.
Photo courtesy Montgomery County Public Libraries.

If the public plaza is Rockville Town Square’s heart, then its brain is the 102,000-square-foot, $26.3 million regional library, which opened in November 2006. As The Washington Post notes, “The Rockville library has visual showstoppers,” beginning with an exterior wall undulating along the curve of Maryland Avenue. The subtle wave of three-story glass commemorates a significant Rockville occurrence–the mapping of the human genome by Rockville-based biotech company CELERA–and serves as a reference to one-half of the double helix of human DNA. Landscaping along Maryland Avenue completes the other half of the double helix.

Rockville Memorial Library was designed by Grimm + Parker Architects, which wanted to give the building “an appropriate civic presence, as well as a unique physical expression that makes a memorable, inviting impression on visitors to the new Town Center,” according to Montgomery County Public Libraries.

The library is also defined by two towers flanking prominent corners. The first anchors the intersection of Maryland Avenue and Beall Avenue, the road along the northern edge of Rockville Town Square. This tower marks the northern gateway to the project and is visible from Rockville Pike–significant because Rockville Town Square is otherwise invisible to motorists along the heavily traveled route. In fact, the Urban Land Institute reports that “it took a summer 2008 water main break that forced the closure of most of Montgomery County’s restaurants–except those in Rockville, which has its own water system–to put Rockville Town Square on the map for many county residents. The project’s restaurants were
‘discovered’ that weekend and people continue to return to them on a regular basis.” With visibility from primary highways a challenge, the
design of the library’s northern tower is critical for enhancing the project’s exposure.

The second library tower anchors the building to the plaza, near the library’s main entrance; the ground level of the round tower is actually restaurant space. The library’s entrance is a three-story, glass-roofed portico. The entrance hall features what Grimm + Parker lead architect Melanie Hennigan calls “a wonder wall”–a series of video display terminals with touch screens for accessing the library’s electronic catalog. Beyond that, an open central rotunda features a half-spiral staircase sweeping to the second floor, past a terrazzo mosaic lit by 250 lights suspended from the atrium ceiling–the library’s featured, interior public art, created by Maryland artist Heidi Lippman.

The library’s collection includes 200,000 items in print and digital format, special collections such as business and government information,
free wifi, a public meeting room and a world languages area (with a focus on Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Russian and Vietnamese), which is of particular interest in a region rich in international diversity.

The five-story building adjacent to the library hosts the 53,000-square-foot Rockville Arts and Innovation Center, designed by D’Agostino Izzo Quirk Architects. The Center is comprised of the Metropolitan Center for Visual Arts (VisArts) and the Rockville Innovation Center, as well as the Rooftop, a social gathering space and rooftop garden.

Library sidewalk

Curved walkway along Maryland Ave. and adjacent to the library reflects the subtle double helix wave of the building.
Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.

VisArts opened in 28,000 square feet of the Center in September 2007, after being housed in temporary space in nearby Gaithersburg while the Town Square was completed. Formerly called Rockville Arts Place, the organization was a permanent resident of the Rockville Mall prior to its demolition. Though a private organization, VisArts partners with the city to offer arts education, exhibitions, professional artist development and community outreach to the residents of Rockville, Montgomery County and beyond.

The Rockville Innovation Center opened in 25,000 square feet of the fourth and fifth floors of the Center in June 2007. It provides space for up to 30 start-up technology companies. Programming is provided by Montgomery County’s Business Innovation Network. The Innovation Center serves domestic technology start-ups in the areas of healthcare, medicine and bioinformatics, as well as international technology companies interested in opening their first U.S. office. The facility provides lease flexibility to tenants, shared amenities such as reception and work and conference rooms and programs that teach business skills and offer support with licensing, intellectual property and financing. Companies usually spend two to four years in the Innovation Center before “graduating” and moving to local commercial office space, according to Rockville
Economic Development, Inc., which manages the Innovation Center.

Street-Level Retail: A Mixed Success in Challenging Economic Times

Rockville Town Square’s retail and restaurant spaces fill most of the street level of the project’s four mid-rise buildings, including space in the library and Arts and Innovation Center. A total of approximately 180,000 square feet for shops and restaurants is available, including the recently leased 32,000-square-foot grocery space that anchors the northeast corner of the project.

After early negotiations with upscale grocer Harris Teeter fell through, developers negotiated with regional chain Superfresh for two years before signing a 20-year lease in 2007. But the contract was canceled in March 2010 and until September 2011 was the only retail space that had not been filled. In December 2010, Federal Realty “shared with the city that they are very close to a lease agreement with a grocery store,” reports Cindy Cotte Griffiths of Rockville Central. The grocery store, Dawson’s Market, is the outgrowth of a single Ellwood Thompson’s market located in Richmond, Virginia. The natural foods grocer advertises a simple mission: “To help people discover and celebrate a healthy relationship with food.” To fulfill this mission, the store works with local farmers to supply meats and vegetables. Dawson’s Market opened in late September 2012. In addition to the grocery space, the building includes seating for 90 in the hopes that its café will “become a meeting place for Rockville,” says Griffiths.

Federal Realty began marketing the retail spaces two years before construction was expected to conclude. Due to the site’s location and the history of its own failed mall, however, Federal Realty was not able to attract large, national retailers. The result, reports the Urban Land Institute in a case study, is that the project “has more of an entertainment/service base than many town center mixed-used developments,” and while Rockville Town Square has a core of mixed uses, it “probably will not fully mature until the area immediately surrounding it is built out with more office and retail space”–a defined goal of the city and Town Center Master Plan.

Retail at Rockville Town Square.

The Maryland Avenue entrance to Rockville Town Square is anchored by Starbucks and Gordon Biersch, national chains that have not struggled as some local restaurants have.
Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.

Starbucks Coffee was the first retail establishment to open, in 2007, at the southwest corner of Maryland Avenue–a primary entrance to the Town Square. Over the next several months, more than 40 additional shops and restaurants opened, with a mix of local and national dining, boutiques, retail and services. National and regional chains include Gordon Biersch Brewing Company (anchoring the corner opposite Starbucks), Gold’s Gym, CVS Pharmacy (with its drive-thru in an adjacent parking garage), Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Capital One Bank. Local stores and services include Toy Kingdom and Jouvence Lifestyle Salon and Spa. The Waygoose Gallery of American Crafts, one of the shops located at Rockville Mall before its demolition, also moved in, though it closed its Rockville Town Square location in May 2011.

As businesses have closed, others have moved in. When locally-owned Greystone Grill shut its doors, Buffalo Wild Wings–a national chain–moved in. The Cingular/AT&T Wireless store was replaced by Sands Artwork Gallery and the original space of New Wave Discount Hair Supply–which moved into the space first occupied by The Papery–is now occupied by Color Me Mine ceramics painting.

Rockville Town Square business owners are concerned by this turnover, of course, but not overly so. “When you have a development like Town Square,” says Austin Grill general manager and Rockville Town Square Merchants Association spokesperson Stephen Schadler, “you put in a mix of retail and restaurants that you think will be successful; however, you’re never going to get that perfect fit the first time around. There’s always going to be those businesses even in the best of economic times that are going to struggle and not make it one way or another. The hope is you bring in new merchants so that you can continue trying to get that right mix and give consumers what they’re demanding.”

Rockville mayor Susan R. Hoffmann, commenting in a June 2009 issue of The Gazette, agreed: “Based on what I know about the cycle of retail, this is a fairly common shakeout–two years in–that occurs even in the best of times.”

One response to bolster business for locally owned retailers has been the city’s implementation of a “buy local” campaign, initiated in late 2008. Toy Kingdom owner Carlos Aulestia is pleased with the program and his investment in it. “They are working hard to increase awareness,” he says. “It provides us with good advertising benefits.”

The Buy Rockville campaign is championed by the Rockville Chamber of Commerce and overseen by the Coalition to Preserve Rockville Neighborhood Businesses. According to Jeff Miller, president of the Coalition, “[f]or a relatively small contribution, a business can benefit from a $60,000 marketing campaign.” The program is free to join, which gets businesses listed in its directory, but additional benefits such as enhanced pages on the program’s website, participation in a customer loyalty program and promotion as sponsors at events such as the Rockville Restaurant Week that kicked off in October 2009 require a membership fee.

Town Center Action Team president Mark Pierzchala noted in an April 2009 Town Square Summit that while Rockville Town Square “is doing better than most people think,” it had not yet fulfilled the vision of all members of the Action Team, a group formed to give community voice to the creation of Rockville’s town center.

Mixed-use retail.

Retail shops, shown here next to a parking garage entrance, feature custom facades along tree-lined sidewalks.
Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.

Activity is expected to increase soon, as Choice Hotels will move its corporate headquarters from Silver Spring, Maryland, to Rockville’s town center, at Rockville Metro Plaza, in order to accommodate 75 more employees (for a total of 475) and a need for 130,000 square feet of office space. The move will take place in 2013 and is scheduled to include the construction of a Cambria Suites hotel across the street from the headquarters to accommodate an estimated 10,000 stays per year.

While the economy has posed challenges for some Rockville Town Square retailers, the design of the streets and building facades have fostered their success. The buildings incorporate a mix of rooflines, towers and turrets, prominent entryways, detailed brickwork and canopies and porticos that make the streets and business entries distinct and pedestrian-oriented. Restaurant patios extend onto wide sidewalks, fostering an active café and street scene much of the year.

Federal Realty paid a fixed price for the retail shells provided by RD Rockville, according to the Urban Land Institute, and then worked with retail tenants to design unique spaces to meet their specific needs. Federal Realty encourages its retail tenants to build out their own storefronts using a set of design guidelines, “to create their own identities, resulting in an eclectic design mix at the street level . . . [a] process that was intended to add to the illusion that the project grew incrementally over time,” reports the Urban Land Institute. The result: nearly 40 Town Square facades incorporate different, customized mixes of finishes, from brick and stone to metal and siding.

Housing: Evolving to Meet the Market

As early as 2006, residential developer RD Rockville knew that the downturn in the economy could force it to change its strategy of selling all 644 residential units. Units range in size from 553-square-foot studios to 2,225-squarefoot, three-bedroom + den penthouses originally priced from $300,000 to $900,000. “We’ve gone from a red-hot market to an ice-cold market,” Scott Ross, president of Ross Development, told The New York Times in 2006. “Our game plan is to offer some of them for lease if the market continues to be slow.”

Even though 30 units sold on the first day and 130 followed over the next two months, the market did indeed slow. In order to accommodate the market shift, however, RD Rockville decided to market only one of four residential buildings as condominiums–now called Palladian Condominiums, with 152 units–while selling the remaining 492 units to a company that could lease them as apartments. RD Rockville sold the remaining units, now called Fenestra Apartments, to CIM Group.

Residential units at Rockville Town Square.

Residences located above Dawson’s Market, with an older Rockville office building in the distance..
Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.

The condos are available for purchase and rent-to-own, which allows residents to apply 75 percent of the rent accumulated from the past year toward a down payment on the purchase of the condo, without extra fees or an increase in monthly rent, according to the Palladian Marketing Center.

In addition to market-rate condos and apartments, Rockville Town Square has 94 units (15 percent of the total residential number) designated as “moderately priced” under the city’s Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit Program. These units are therefore “affordable” to households earning under 60 percent of the area median income. Though they do not share all of the amenities of the other units–there are no granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, or hardwood flooring, for example–they otherwise are identical to the Palladian condos and Fenestra apartments.

All of the residential units are located above street-level retail and the buildings are adjacent to surface parking or parking garages.

A Cutting-Edge Parking Guidance System

Though not part of the city’s original plans, Rockville Town Square has implemented a $1.5 million parking guidance system, “one of the first applications of this technology outside an airport setting,” according to the Urban Land Institute. The system announces parking space availability, both in number and locations, in the Town Square’s three public garages and also includes payment kiosks.

Secure resident parking is separate from visitor parking. The city owns half of the parking spaces while RD Rockville owns the other half. In total, the Town Square includes approximately 2,000 parking spaces in garages, surface lots and on-street parking.

Though Town Square is just two blocks from the Rockville Metro station (at Rockville Metro Plaza) a February 2010 article in The Washington Post notes that “merchants said many customers drive there. Suburban shoppers accustomed to free parking have balked at paying for garage parking.” Garage rates have since been reduced and, during the winter holiday season, eliminated entirely in the hopes of bringing in these suburban shoppers.

Additionally, merchants have handed out fliers at the Shady Grove and Rockville Metro stations, advertising $60-per-month commuter
parking in town center garages. “The hope,” the Post article concludes, “is that those commuters might shop or eat on their way to and from work, even if it means they contribute to traffic congestion.”

Conclusion: Collaborative Redevelopment Effort Leads to the “Best New Urbanist Center”

Street-level retail.

Street-level retail and pedestrian-focused amenities along Maryland Avenue.
Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.

Rockville Town Square is the first phase of what the city hopes will be an extensive redevelopment of its town center. As a significant first step–thanks to a comprehensive, stakeholder-involved planning process and a committed development team–the Town Square clearly has become a place in Rockville where people want to be.

Both residents and professional town planners agree: “I wanted a lifestyle where I didn’t have to get in my car all the time, and something with a community feel,” says Daniel Stauffer, a molecular biologist who moved from rural Virginia to Rockville Town Square for his job in Germantown. “I have a tailor, dry cleaner and breakfast place right outside my door.”

Noted town planner and designer Andrés Duany is more direct, remarking several months after the project’s grand opening that “[t]he best New Urbanist center, in my opinion, is the brand new Rockville Town Square. Very mature. Very credible as urbanism.” Accordingly, the project won a prestigious Congress for New Urbanism Charter Award in 2008.

The Urban Land Institute reports that the project’s positive impact has been economic, as well: “The area’s property, sales and income taxes all have risen since Rockville Town Square was completed. As a result, the project’s public sector costs will be pretty much recouped within a decade.”

In striving to “create a daytime, evening and weekend activity center that is easily identifiable, pedestrian-oriented and incorporates a mix of uses and activities,” as the “Town Center Master Plan” projected back in 2001, the city of Rockville and its partners have indeed achieved determined success.


For more information, visit the Rockville Town Square website at



Boorstin, Julia. “A Genetic Map: Biotechs Flock to Rockville.” Fortune. November 27, 2000.

Brachfield, Melissa J. “Several more businesses close in Rockville Town Square.” The Gazette. June 12, 2009.

Brenner, Elsa. “A Piazza for a Maryland Suburb.” The New York Times. November 22, 2006.

Briggs, Don. Presentation and discussion for walking tour of Rockville Town Square on behalf of the Congress for New Urbanism. June 23, 2007.

Carrick, Nathan. “Super Fresh backs out of lease in Town Square.” The Gazette. March 26, 2010.

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Simmons B. Buntin is the founding editor-in-chief of A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments and, with Ken Pirie, author of Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places (Planetizen Press, 2013).

Header image of the plaza, mixed-use buildings, and clock tower at Rockville Town Square by Simmons B. Buntin.