- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2000

Daniel McCaffrey saw potential in Friendship Heights.
The Chicago developer breathed new life into the moribund Mazza Gallerie, whose affluent customers from nearby Chevy Chase had gradually gone elsewhere. He did it by turning some of the merchants to face the street.
Mazza Gallerie added windows, new entrances, new signs and better lighting, as well as new upscale retailers like Villeroy & Boch. The stores gained visibility and a connection with potential customers walking by.
"The sidewalk and streetscape was a bit sleepy but it had a lot of potential," Mr. McCaffrey said. "We set out to improve the asset by making it more friendly and more of a center for the community."
All through the shopping district that stretches along Wisconsin Avenue NW, spanning the District-Montgomery County line, developers are cashing in on the idea behind street-front retail. They are reconfiguring existing buildings and developing new ones to make retailers accessible to pedestrians.
"If you're a super-regional mall like Tysons Corner, the mall itself is the experience," said John Asadoorian, founder of Asadoorian Retail Real Estate in Alexandria. "In a place like Chevy Chase, the street is the destination."
Retail has taken on different shapes and sizes over the years from enclosed multilevel malls and neighborhood shopping centers to suburban strip centers anchored by big-box discount retailers. However, shopping centers have had to reinvent themselves to keep up with the competition.
"These days people have a lot of places to shop," Mr. Asadoorian said. "Retailers need to create a special, unique [experience]."
And street-front retail the latest in shopping trends does just that.
"Chevy Chase is changing with the times," said Eric Rubin of Madison Retail, a real estate firm in the District. "We're basically seeing changes for the better."
Already the Chevy Chase/ Friendship Heights area has a strong retail presence. On the Maryland side sit high-end retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, Gianni Versaci and Tiffany & Co., while the District has Neiman Marcus, the Pottery Barn and the Cheesecake Factory to name a few.
And on the heels of the massive renovation of Mazza Gallerie, the community is gearing up for new retail and streetscape improvements to lure more pedestrians to the upscale shopping district.
"Each market that has a viable streetscape goes through cycles," Mr. Rubin said. "Owners of properties constantly need to work to keep it fresh and new."
The success of the new improved street-front retail depends in part on the ability of both jurisdictions to come together as one unit to market the area and solve problems together.
One of the toughest issues is the expected onslaught of vehicle traffic into the Chevy Chase and Friendship Heights area as new retail lines Wisconsin Avenue even with the availability of public transportation through the Friendship Heights Metro station.
The Friendship Heights Task Force, which represents business and neighborhood communities and government agencies from both Montgomery County and the District, was established in 1998 to coordinate planning and transportation policies in Friendship Heights.
A committee from that task force is now reviewing the possibility of establishing a Business Improvement District similar to the Downtown DC Business District or the Golden Triangle Business District. The idea was based on a recommendation in the Friendship Heights Sector Plan that suggests the area create some kind of business partnership.
That plan, created in 1998 as the master plan for development on the Maryland side, is a mixture of new office and residential buildings, retail and amenities in that area.
The retail portion, determined through research from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, is an attempt to put a balance between the need for retail in the area and the "character we were trying to achieve," said Carolyn Revelle Hufbauer, planner/coordinator in the commission's community-based planning division. "We wanted to continue the retail avenue up Wisconsin Avenue."

Big boxes and atriums

Just across the street from the Mazza Gallerie, the developers of the Chevy Chase Pavilion are close to completing plans to redevelop the retail portion of the 500,000-square-foot complex that includes offices, parking, retailers and a 198-room Embassy Suites Hotel.
Since pension adviser Lowe Enterprises Mid-Atlantic Inc. bought the property in November 1998, the company has been working on plans to revamp the retail portion, which includes street-front retailers the Pottery Barn, Cheesecake Factory, Joan and David's and Talbots.
While some tenants have done extremely well, "We're looking at ways to make a very successful property even more successful," said Marc Dubick, senior vice president of Lowe Enterprises.
The plans will result in some physical changes but will not include "demalling" the pavilion at 5335 Wisconsin Ave., he said.
"I can't suggest that street frontage is not an important retail issue, but there are other issues" that attract tenants and shoppers, Mr. Dubick said.
Improvements to the 140,000 square feet of retail space will include more signs, better lighting, and easier access to parking, as well as drawing from the characteristics it already has there.
"We have a unique property with an 11-story atrium," Mr. Dubick said. "That's a positive feature."
The company will also try to bring in more targeted upscale retailers.
"We're going to work very hard to improve [the Pavilion's] presence in the shopping district," Mr. Dubick said, "and to make it complimentary to other retailers."
Across the street, the developer of the Hecht's site is hoping for the same thing.
New England Development, based in Boston, is redeveloping the site where Hecht's is located, turning it into a mega-complex with street-front retail, offices and parking, as well as a hotel and residences.
The current 180,000-square-foot Hecht's building, which was formerly a Woodward & Lothrop store, will be demolished and replaced by the new complex, adding 150,000-250,000 square feet of smaller boutique stores on the street a requirement from the Friendship Heights Sector Plan.
"We want to see street-front retail to animate the street," Ms. Hufbauer said. "We don't want a big box with its back to the street."
Hecht's will be relocated to a new building that will be constructed closer to the corner of Friendship Boulevard and Western Avenue.
"We think Chevy Chase is probably the premier shopping district in the Washington area as far as street-front retail," said David Gilmore, vice president of New England Development, which is redeveloping the site. "We think we can build on the strength of the current retail market."
The Chevy Chase Land Co. believes the same thing.
The developer, responsible for bringing Saks Fifth Avenue to Wisconsin Avenue in the 1950s, is planning to turn the parking lot next to Clyde's into a high-end retail center. For now the 100,000-square-foot project is waiting rezoning approval.
The Chevy Chase Land Co. is also planning to redevelop the site where the Chevy Chase Center currently stands, but the 300,000-square-foot project is on hold pending a lawsuit filed by the Chevy Chase Village and the Citizens Coordinating Committee for Friendship Heights against the planning board, which approved the project.
The lawsuit claims that no solution has been found concerning how the traffic is going to work based on the level of retail proposed, according to Robert Cope, chairman of the citizens' group.

Retail attractions

Retailers are finding the shopping district more attractive because of the selection of upscale merchants already in place.
"Chevy Chase is viewed as a regional shopping area because of the specialty shops," Mr. Rubin said. "The hybrid of upscale and boutiques is desirable. It gives diversity to the mass-merchant retailers."
Mr. McCaffrey filled 120,000 square feet across from Mazza Gallerie with Borders Books & Music, Eddie Bauer, Linens 'N Things and Maggiano's giving them all street-front presence, high visibility and easy access for pedestrians.
The Chevy Chase Plaza, on the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Jenifer Street, currently has two vacant retail spaces on the street level. However Insignia/ESG, which manages and leases the building, is negotiating leases with two national "high-profile" retailers, said John Filipos, director at the real estate firm.
"More critical mass of appropriate retailers will be better for all," said Lowe Enterprises' Mr. Dubick. "It will bring more activity to the market."
The General Cinema mega-movie complex, located on the top floor of the Mazza Gallerie, has been one of the biggest draws. Restaurants and retailers have seen significant increase in business since the seven-screen upscale movie and dinner theater opened in January.
"The traffic flow is definitely up," said Suzette Timme, general manager at Mazza Gallerie. "It was exactly what this community was looking for."
The Mazza Gallerie, built in 1977 and anchored by Neiman Marcus, was once the premier shopping destination for Chevy Chase residents before competition from Montgomery Mall and White Flint began luring affluent customers away.
"In its heyday it was plush and beautiful," Mr. Rubin said. "But as it grew older, to some it was considered an enclosed tomb. Opening it up brought it back to life."
"The remalling of Mazza Gallerie has improved the cityscape and customer traffic," said Martha Slagle, president of the Chevy Chase Shopping District Association.
The Gallerie is expecting a 22,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue Men's Store to open this summer on the street level and Filene's Basement to reopen.
Even during the renovations, tenants' sales increased. In 1998 sales rose by 6 percent and in 1999 they increased by 7 percent.
"We had a major sales increase when the mall was literally a construction zone," Ms. Timme said. "That says a lot for our tenants and the community."

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