GAITHERSBURG – City advisory committee staff told Mayor Jud Ashman and the Council Monday night of concerns about public perception of Olde Towne, updates on art projects in the City and plans for the 2018 Book Festival.
At a work session that evening, Mayor Jud Ashman and the City Council heard reports and plans from the staff of several of the City’s advisory committees.
For many years, the economic revitalization of Olde Towne has been one of the most contentious issues in the City. Lenny Levy, chairperson of the Olde Towne Advisory Subcommittee, said that the City had made progress on that front recently.
“Archstone, Hidden Creek and other Olde Towne apartment communities are over 90 percent leased,” Levy said. “16 South Summit is in design to be our new police headquarters and several new restaurants are open, including Rincon Peruano and Greene Growlers, which used to be Growlers.”
Despite progress, Levy identified several remaining challenges, including that commercial rents are lower than elsewhere in the City, the demographic and traffic counts of the area were not attracting national retailers, and Olde Towne is inaccurately perceived by many area residents to have a higher crime rate than the rest of Gaithersburg.
Council member Michael A. Sesma suggested the lower commercial rents in Olde Towne might be an asset rather than a liability, as they might appeal to new businesses.
Council Vice President Neil H. Harris cited a recent presentation stating that one of the challenges facing the D.C. area was attracting and retaining millennials.
“What I’d like to see more of from you folks is kind of a strategic look at, rather than trying to be everything for everybody, is, who’s our audience? Is it people new to the county?” Harris said. “I think making Gaithersburg a home for the next generation is a good way to go.”
Ashman said recently-built apartment buildings could be an opportune location for art.
“It’s very important to me that we move forward as a City in establishing our cultural identity,” Ashman said. Ashman suggested that the walls behind newly-constructed apartments in Olde Towne could be used as public murals.
Levy agreed with Ashman's suggestion of installing public art murals near Olde Towne apartments.
Jim Hoehn, a member of the Cultural Arts Advisory Committee, discussed several public arts projects recently undertaken or proposed by the City. Like Ashman, he mentioned art to help generate community interest and to help business activity in Olde Towne.