Downtown Bethesda, including the Woodmont Triangle area a few blocks north of Bethesda Row, is home to 500 stores, 200 restaurants and 45,000 employees, Hartman said. Bethesda Row in particular has been a linchpin in the area’s transformation from a quiet suburb to a shopping and entertainment destination. The Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema attracts independent-film buffs, and sidewalks bustle on weekdays with nearby office workers running out for lunch. On weekends, the area teems with stroller-pushing families, runners and cyclists.
A few blocks from the Bethesda Metrorail station, Bethesda Row is considered a textbook example of transit-oriented development, where taller buildings with mixed uses — retail, residential and office space — are designed to create dense, easily walkable communities. The area is also scheduled for an additional southern entrance to the Metrorail Red Line station as part of the proposed 16-mile light rail Purple Line, which would start near Bethesda Row and run east to New Carrollton.
Replacing vast surface parking lots with high-rise buildings also jibes with the county’s new overall plan to focus development around transit stations to accommodate population growth while limiting traffic.
Even so, like many transit-oriented communities, downtown Bethesda has retained and even generated plenty of traffic, and the area is still absorbing thousands of vehicles from the recently expanded Walter Reed National Military Medical Center nearby.
“This area is already really, really built-up,” said Rachel Federowicz, 28, who takes her 2-year-old son downtown about four days a week for children’s classes and to play at the fountain.
“I can’t imagine a high-rise here,” Federowicz said as she carried her toddler through the biggest surface lot. “It’s going to give it a different feel.”
Danny Fleishman, co-owner of Bethesda Bagels, said he’s bracing for customer parking to become even more scarce during construction. But he said he hopes to profit short-term from hungry construction workers and long-term from the residents and workers who will live and work in the new buildings.
“Once it opens, obviously there will be more restaurant competition coming in,” Fleishman said. “But if it draws more people to the area, that’s more customers for us, too.”