The newest attempt by Rockville to revitalize its downtown and rid the community of an image that one resident called "a cold city filled with beer halls, drunks and rednecks," received enthusiastic support recently at a meeting between city officials, residents and architect Arthur Cotton Moore.
About 200 residents, armed with ideas on how the city should be reshaped, met with Moore, a Washington architect whom city officials are paying $100,000 to create a new image for downtown.
Moore, who presented a slide show of some of architectural efforts, including Canal Square and the Foundry shopping complex in Georgetown, spent most of the evening listening to residents' views on how to make downtown Rockville a viable business and residential district.
This newest effort to pump life into the business district will be "a community effort involving the entire citizenry," according to Allen E. Pritchard, chairman of the city planning commission.
The original city urban renewal program of the late 1960s has been branded a failure by residents and officials alike. At the time it was completed, about 160 businesses were relocated and many structures were razed to make way for a colossal concrete shopping mall now called The Commons, an apartment complex, the Unibank building and the site of the planned county office building.
"Now we want to make good on our past failures," Pritchard said. "We want to make the town center a visual reference that is pleasant."
In its present state, Pritchard said, the town center (the city's new designation for its business district) is a source of embarrassment to residents.
But with good planning, he added, the downtown area, which included 2 percent of the land in Rockville, could produce 25 percent of tax base.
"What we're trying to do is take what we've got and make it better," said James M. Davis, director of the city Planning Office.
Under the new revitalization plan for 420 acres of downtown Rockville, Davis, the city hopes to encourage private development within guidelines to be established by Moore. The business district stretches from Frederick Avenue to Edmonston Drive and from Stonestreet Avenue on the east to Richard Montgomery High School on the west.
Davis said the downtown area has 24-million square feet of commercial space and could support 700 new dwelling units.
At the meeting, Mae Liner, a longtime Rockville resident, suggested that a good place to begin the revitalization would be remodeling The Commons on Courthouse Square.
The Commons, in the center of the business district, has had financial problems since it opening in 1972 and has been criticized as an ugly concrete structure. Liner suggested that the stores in The Commons be made more visible to passersby.
The proposed completion in 1981 of a Metrorial station opposition the mall also is expected to increase the number of downtown shoppers.
Since the mall is privately owned, Moore said he will be able to do little more than to "encourage" the owner to cooperate with any new plans for the business district.
Many in the audience said they would like to see the mall razed, and they rejected ideas to make Rockville a regional shopping center in competition with neighboring White Flint and Lake Forest malls.
Many residents, according to Davis want to retain a small-town image for the city, even though it is the Montgomery County seat and the second-largest city in Maryland.
Within two years, with the completion of the new county office complex, 1,700 additional workers will work in the downtown area.
The added workers are of great concern to residents already frustrated by traffic congestion, limited parking and limited safe pedestrian walkways.
"This is a regular concrete jungle," one resident remarked. She said weeds growing around utility poles were the only visible greenery in the entire city.
Moore suggested that one remedy might be an enclosed parking facility that could be surrounded by shrubbery and pedestrian-only thoroughfares.
Moores said he will attempt to show deference to all citizen requests while "creating a downtown that can be a gathering place and one that can make a lot of money."
To be more accessible to the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Moore's associates and city planners have set up an office in The Commons.
A biweekly publication called Town Center will be sent to residents to inform them of new developments.
In December, Moore will present some options for the downtown area to the city planning commission.