As White Flint, North Bethesda transform, officials wonder what to call the area

As the Montgomery County shopping corridor along Rockville Pike begins to transform from an auto-dependent suburb of aging strip malls and vast parking lots into a more walkable and livable downtown, a new question has emerged: What should it be called?

Some developers and residents say that the area between the Capital Beltway and Montrose Parkway — commonly referred to as White Flint or North Bethesda — should rebrand itself with one clear identity as it becomes a hub of high-rise living, stores and restaurants lining a boulevard-like Rockville Pike.

The name must be catchy enough, they say, to grab a national audience but authentic enough for locals to embrace for decades to come. Think of the District’s NoMa and Penn Quarter, or how Fairfax County leaders recently streamlined Tysons Corner to Tysons as they tout another urbanizing suburb.

The top options under consideration: Pike Corridor or Pike District­ (referring to Rockville Pike), Market District (as in a place to gather and shop) and Slate District­ (a rock reference to a fresh start).

Other ideas that have been tossed around but have not gained traction include “NoBeSoRo”­ (short for North Bethesda South Rockville), Quartz District (another rock image) and Rockbeth or Bethrock (combinations of Bethesda and Rockville). The Rocksy was deemed “fun but too cute,” one developer said.

White Flint and North Bethesda are still in the mix, county officials and developers say. However, they most likely will be considered as names only for one of the smaller neighborhoods within the newly branded corridor.

You can vote in the county’s poll at www.surveymonkey.com/s/3S2FG83. Have another idea? Offer it in the online poll’s “other” section. (Note: Your personal “Dave’s World” is a non-starter.)

“We’re creating something really new and different and exciting that will really change the region’s view of what the Pike is,” said Evan Goldman, a vice president for Federal Realty, which is redeveloping its Mid-Pike Plaza shopping center into Pike & Rose, a 24-acre “urban-minded” community of new offices, a luxury movie theater, a hotel and 1,500 apartments.

“We want a brand for that area to communicate the transformation that’s happening here,” Goldman said.

Some residents said they, too, want something that will convey a vibrant place where people want to go — and stay. The corridor also might be extended a half-mile north to include the Twinbrook Metro station.

“If we’re working on building this great new destination, a destination needs a name,” said Lindsay Hoffman, a resident and executive director of the nonprofit Friends of White Flint, which represents developers, businesses and residents. “We’re really trying to shift the paradigm of what a suburb is here.”

The remaking of White Flint is part of a national trend to help more people live, work, shop and be entertained in a walkable area near transit. Planners say doing so is the best way to absorb population growth without making traffic significantly worse. Real estate developers say they are catering to two enormous demographic groups who want to drive less and walk more: baby boomer empty-nesters looking to downsize, and millennials and other young professionals seeking an urban lifestyle.

The naming stakes are high, county officials say, because the White Flint-Twinbrook corridor, already an economic powerhouse, has mouthwatering potential for generating jobs and tax revenue. The 11 / 2-mile stretch of Rockville Pike has two Metro stations, with plans for additional transit, bike lanes and wide sidewalks.

It also has about 150,000 people living within a three-mile radius of the White Flint Metro station, with a median household income of nearly $90,000, according to the Montgomery Business Development Corporation.

“Rockville Pike is one of the strongest retail brands in the country,” said Ken Hartman, director of the county’s Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center. “It’s phenomenal in terms of sales per mile.”

But locals say the area has long struggled with an identity crisis. It has a Rockville Zip code of 20852, which also includes mail addressed to North Bethesda, but is not in the Rockville city limits. The eastern portion has a Kensington postal address, while the county’s growth plan for the area was titled “White Flint.”

“The Rockville Whole Foods is in the North Bethesda Market [development], which is in the White Flint planning area,” Hartman said. “There’s no consensus on what its identity should be.”

The name divide leaves next-door neighbors with different hometowns and even pits spouses against each other.

“My wife believes we’re in North Bethesda,” Barnaby Zall, a longtime local activist who lives west of Old Georgetown Road, said, laughing. “I believe we’re in White Flint.”

The debate over a new, unifying name is lighting up neighborhood e-mail groups. Those involved in the discussions say there are three camps: White Flint, North Bethesda and Something New.

Supporters of keeping White Flint for the larger area say the name is already well-known because of the White Flint Mall and White Flint Metro station. However, it has largely been rejected except perhaps for a smaller neighborhood, officials say, because some developers voiced concerns about “brand confusion” between the mall area and other developments sprouting up along Rockville Pike.

Francine Waters, of Lerner Enterprises, which co-owns White Flint Mall, said Lerner favors a new name as part of a joint marketing effort for the Rockville Pike corridor. However, she said, Lerner wants to keep White Flint for the neighborhood around the mall, most of which will be torn down to make way for a town center.

“Its name is real and authentic,” Waters wrote in an e-mail. “ ‘White Flint’ is well-established, creates a connection between the area’s past and future, is a name that resonates both locally and regionally, and casts a vision for transformation.”

Advocates for North Bethesda say it, too, is a well-known name that pinpoints its geographical location.

“I think North Bethesda works just great,” said Emily Mintz, a Long & Foster Realtor who has lived in the area’s Tilden Woods neighborhood since 1983. “How many names can we put in the mix before everyone gets confused?”

But some developers say the area now called North Bethesda is too big — it extends as far west as Montgomery Mall, well beyond the Rockville Pike corridor — and hints of “Bethesda lite” rather than a separate, distinct community.

A new name, they say, should better portray a walkable community of cohesive neighborhoods.

“It’s imagery, it’s connotation,” said Greg Trimmer of the firm JBG, which recently developed North Bethesda Market, a cluster of stores and restaurants that includes a 24-story apartment building. “It’s how you think of the design of a place — as a unified, distinct place that resonates.”

The 14-member White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee, appointed by Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), is considering the name options, along with the Friends of White Flint group. Hartman said the county hopes the community — developers, business owners and residents — will reach consensus on one name that all will want to promote.

Pete Gandhi, 37, a sales consultant who lives in one of the newer high-rises on Rockville Pike, said he hopes a new name will attract more young professionals. As he toted his laptop into the Starbucks at North Bethesda Market one recent afternoon, Gandhi said he thinks that they, too, would like the new, urban feel.

The sidewalk outside of the Whole Foods is red brick instead of concrete, and a center plaza has a waterfall fountain surrounded by tables with umbrellas. Restaurants such as Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar, he said, feel “very hip and young — like something you’d find in D.C.”

“This area is completely different and totally revamped and rejuvenated,” Gandhi said. “They need [a name] that will talk about the modernization of Rockville. People still think of this as a sleepy suburb.”

Katherine Shaver is a transportation and development reporter. She joined The Washington Post in 1997 and has covered crime, courts, education and local government but most prefers writing about how people get — or don’t get — around the Washington region.
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