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Retail study supports limited redevelopment in Kentlands

Demand could support opening of 55 to 70 new stores and restaurants, or be absorbed by existing businesses.

In the Kentlands area there is existing demand for up to 214,250 square feet of new retail and restaurant development producing up to $65 million in sales, and by 2022 this demand will likely generate up to $69 million in gross sales, according to a preliminary retail study commissioned by the KCA and conducted by Gibbs Planning Group, a leading urban retail consultancy.

“This new retail demand could be absorbed by existing businesses and/or with the opening of 55 to 70 new stores and restaurants,” according to the Gibbs report. “If constructed as a new shopping center, the development … could include 6-7 limited-service eating places, 7-8 stores carrying department store merchandise, 3-4 full-service restaurants, 7-8 apparel stores, 1-2 special food services stores, 1-2 new home furnishings stores and specialty food stores and an assortment of other retail and restaurant offerings.”

The KCA will share the report with the three key commercial property owners in and around the Kentlands: Kimco, owners of Market Square;  Saul Centers, owners of Kentlands Square; and the owners of the building currently occupied by the Diya Bistro, plus the City of Gaithersburg and the Kentlands Community Foundation (KCF), which is spearheading a proposed effort to revitalize the Kentlands Main Street.

“Robert Gibbs is considered one of the foremost market analyst and urban retail experts in America. For more than two decades, his expertise has been sought by some of the most respected mayors, renowned planners, and successful real-estate developers in the country,” noted Marina Khoury, a partner with DPZ, the Kentlands Town Architect. “As the author of Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development, Gibbs has developed innovative yet practical methods for applying modern trends in commercial development to more than 400 town centers and historic cities here and abroad.”

The Gibbs study’s findings provide some perspective on these various redevelopment plans, though the report does not appear to support the scale of all of the concurrent plans that are currently at various stages in the City’s approval process. The KCA is working with its community architect, DPZ Partners, LLC and former community architect Michael Watkins Architects (MWA) along with City planners to represent the community’s interests in protecting the “New Urbanism” ideals that were incorporated into the original design of Kentlands as these three redevelopment projects progress. New Urbanism is an urban design concept that promotes walkable neighborhoods containing a wide range of housing as well as mixed-use residential and commercial property. Developing and managing the retail component of such communities can be among the most challenging aspects of New Urbanism, according the Congress on New Urbanism.

Like other New Urbanist communities, commercial development in the Kentlands brings some unique problems because of the different owners of the separate but interconnected business districts, plus the fragmented ownership of all the individual live-work units on Main Street. Protecting the community’s New Urbanism ideals holistically as each owner pursues individual business goals is a critical challenge. In May the KCA leadership submitted a letter to the City of Gaithersburg in support of the “sketch plan” submitted to the City by Saul Centers, and urging City planners to factor in the “big picture” connecting all three developments during the approval process.

“It is worth noting that this total figure [of new retail in the Gibbs report] is significantly less than what the current master plan and zoning permits,” Khoury explained. “So, what does this mean for our downtown? In a nutshell, it means that the total amount of permitted retail should matter, and precisely where that retail is located also matters. Both are critical to the success of proposed and existing businesses in Kentlands.”

Separately, Mike Watkins of MWA joined the Board at its July meeting to offer encouraging input on the changes to the Kentlands Apartment Schematic Development Plan (SDP) proposed by the owners of the site currently occupied by the Diya Bistro, which have incorporated more elements of New Urbanism.

The Gibbs study estimates that the Kentlands area has an approximately 57 square-mile “primary trade area” bounded to the north by Father Hurley Boulevard, to the west by Berryville Road, to the South by Glen Road and to the east by the Metro rail line. The boundaries roughly equate to a five-mile radius.  The numbers generated by Mr. Gibbs refer to all retail within that 57 square-mile area, consequently any other development within that radius would adversely affect the amount of new retail available within the Kentlands.

“Based on [the] site evaluation, the existing retail hubs, population clusters, highway access, and the retail gravitation in the market, as well as our experience defining trade areas for similar communities throughout the United States, it was determined that consumers in the primary trade area generate demand to support a variety of retailers,” the report reads. “This potential will continue to increase over the next five years, sustained by annual population growth of 1.35 percent and annual household income growth of 1.4 percent.”

The report’s projections are based on a set of assumptions, among them are:

  • No other major retail centers are planned or proposed at this time,as such, no other retail is assumed in the sales forecasts
  • No other major retail will be developed within the five mile trade area of the subject site, within that five mile radius (for instance, if Crown Farm or Old Town Gaithersburg develops more retail, that would count against the current 214,500
  • This total figure doesn’t account for our current vacancies which already exceeds 60,000 square feet
  • The 214,500 feet does not factor in the proposed residential projects sitting before the City of Gaithersburg in terms of future development by Kentlands Apartments (Diya), Saul, and Kimco.  Gibbs will not base his numbers off projections of development.

“While our residential areas are stable and complete, over the next decades our downtown will significantly transform and densify,” Khoury added. “Ideally, any additional retail we get should be strategically placed to not only increase its own chances of success but also increase the success of existing retail. The City’s approved master plan now needs an update to provide a more realistic framework under which new retail can be supported.

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