As Rockville's mayor and City Council last week considered plans of local developers to resurrect the Commons on Courthouse Square, an ailing downtown shopping mall, several city residents were urging city officials to reconsider the whole idea.
Residents near the business district, between Hungerford Drive and Washington Street north of Middle Lane, complained last week that the mall's revitalization, coupled with plans for an adjacent $83 million hotel and office redevelopment project, might cause traffic problems, City Clerk Helen Heneghan said.
Others cautioned the city "not to make the same mistake [it] made before" -- a reference to a history of business failures at the Commons since it opened in 1972, she said.
The forbidding windowless structure replaced an old business strip when Rockville undertook urban renewal in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But by the time it opened as the Rockville Mall, other privately financed malls had lured the major stores that help ensure the success of a shopping mall. Even after it was reborn as the Commons, small shops continued to fold one by one.
Currently, Rockville is negotiating with the local development firm of Eisinger-Kilbane & Associates over a proposed $83 million redevelopment project that would include office buildings, a hotel and apartments adjacent to the mall.
Eisinger officials, along with the Commons' current owner, Rockville Redevelopment Association, believe they can overcome the mall's gloomy appearance, complicated accesses and relative isolation by making facade improvements and building ramps and walkways to tie it into nearby Metrorail station construction and the proposed downtown projects.
The council is considering leasing to Eisinger its parking garage beneath the Commons. The city would get $40,000 anually from Eisinger for the first four years of the agreement, while the city would operate the facility. From then on, Eisinger would operate it, paying $445,622 the fifth year with 3 percent annual increases thereafter.
The garage leasing agreement also would require Eisinger to cover $2 million in delinquent tax payments on the mall, replace its roof and convert much of the interior into office space, movie theaters and stores.
The council also created a town center parking committee to handle the ebb and flow of downtown parking as projects develop. Residents Joseph Lynott and Robert Shawn were chosen to head two parts of the 24-member panel.
In other business, the council hired P. J. Ellis Co. of Poolesville for $122,125 worth of roadside landscaping and agreed to rent for $42,242 uniforms for city maintenance workers.