OMSI Pitches New Organizations to Benefit Downtown

Photo | Pam Schipper One Main Street Initiative envisions Main Street as the gateway entrance to the New Urbanist Kentlands community.

Photo | Pam Schipper
One Main Street Initiative envisions Main Street as the gateway entrance to the New Urbanist Kentlands community.

Members of the One Main Street Initiative (OMSI) appeared before the Gaithersburg City Council on June 5 to present the results of their five-month mandate.

OMSI was created by the Kentlands Community Foundation (KCF) in 2017 to come up with ways to revitalize Main Street and Downtown Kentlands. With volunteers and financial support from the Kentlands Citizens Assembly Title Holders’ Contribution Fund, the KCF enlisted the services of Richard Bradley from the Urban Partnership and consulting firm Live Work Learn Play to develop a strategy for going forward.

Bradley, along with Mariann Zylstra and John Schlichting, director of planning and code administration, shared the following mandate with the City Council.

Develop a “retail roadmap” for Main Street, including

  • market positioning for Main Street and Downtown Kentlands;
  • retail programming for increased economic activity;
  • funding strategies for business attraction and support to live-work property owners;
  • year-round events and activation programming strategies;
  • partnership and collaboration tactics amongst various Main Street and Downtown Kentlands stakeholders; and
  • strategies for a Main Street Organization and Downtown Alliance.

The representatives from OMSI pointed out a significant challenge that faces the revitalization of Main Street/Kentlands Downtown. Within a fiercely competitive retail market in and around Gaithersburg, most competing retail centers are owned and managed by a single company. This puts Main Street and Kentlands Downtown at a disadvantage when trying to compete with more organized and single-minded owners.

Representatives also noted that the nature of retail is changing; more consumers are opting to do their shopping online. If retail is to thrive, it must offer an experience: a walkable area with interesting shops, restaurants and services.

OMSI stressed that Kentlands Downtown now has an opportunity. The area is evolving into a mixed-use center. Kentlands Boulevard should become the spine around which the walkable area revolves and “the gateway entrance to the celebrated New Urbanist community,” according to the presentation.

OMSI recommended that a Main Street Task Force be formed, consisting of a manager and select volunteers to better position Main Street within a greater Kentlands retail node. Along with the Main Street Task Force, OMSI recommended a Downtown Kentlands Alliance. With the leadership of an executive director, this alliance can bring together all the partners to organize with the private sector. The plan would be to contract with an executive director for six months until the alliance and Main Street groups are established. The required income for a Downtown Alliance is estimated to cost $300,000 to $400,000 per year, with funding coming from voluntary contributions, assessments, business improvement district, economic development grants, fees for service, limited county and state level grants/funding, city funding and sponsorship.

OMSI representatives detailed the benefits of a Downtown Kentlands Alliance from the perspectives of business partners, residents and proximate employers, as well as the City of Gaithersburg. OMSI maintains that the benefits to the city include “an increased tax base, a differentiator and driver for economic development, and an increased desirability of Gaithersburg within a greater market.” OMSI also pointed out the fiscal impact improvements could have on the city. Their presentation cited that the “net fiscal impact of Greater Kentlands for FY 2018 is estimated to be $4.6 million, or approximately 50% of City of Gaithersburg Police Department expenditures.”

At the end of their presentation, Zylstra invited the City of Gaithersburg to “make a business decision to invest in a cohesive downtown Kentlands, which will lead to increased tax revenue.” She added that they don’t expect the city to make a full match to the required funds but was hoping that the city could commit to half. The group offered that this plan differs from other plans that failed in the past. Most notably, there is significant community investment and a clear path to an organizational structure. John Schlictling will provide leadership to the alliance and Neil Burka, a Lakelands resident and regional property manager who runs Pike and Rose Federal Realty, will lead the Main Street Task Force.

Overall, the feedback from the City Council was positive. Ryan Spiegel was pleased that the OMSI anticipated that there would be questions about how this plan was different from others and that the representatives addressed that issue from the outset.

Michael Sesma added that he had never seen anything as comprehensive as this proposal. Sesma also noted that everyone seems to realize now, after many starts and stops, how important this is and how the area’s success will benefit the city.

The city voted on the FY 2018 budget that evening, but pools of money are available for the city to make economic investments. The Mayor and City Council plan to discuss with staff and provide recommendations at a later date.