Downtown Gaithersburg. Blue is the historic heart, red is the 2008 redevelopment now under construction, orange is the 1990s redevelopment, and purple is potential redevelopment areas.
Downtown Gaithersburg pretty much stinks. The old agricultural/industrial village was left behind during the 20th Century suburban and New Urbanist development booms that defined Gaithersburg as most people know it today. As a result, few people ever go there, and almost nobody considers it the heart of the larger Gaithersburg community.
But it has potential, and is slowly but surely making progress.
Downtown Gaithersburg has a nice core of historic urban structures surrounding a MARC commuter rail station that is just gorgeous. If it were filled in with more people and activity, it might look a lot like Clarendon. And it just so happens that there’s a ton of underused industrial land all around begging to be put to better use.
The first step came in the late 1990s, with a multi-building redevelopment that added offices, apartments, shops, and a concert pavilion. In 2003 the City of Gaithersburg followed up with an ambitious and beautiful master plan for downtown, identifying where and how redevelopment should take place. Following that, in 2008, the next major private sector redevelopment was approved. It would add about 400 apartments and street front retail right in the very heart of downtown.
And then the economy tanked, and nothing happened.
According to DCmud, ground has been broken on the 2008 plan, which is now actively moving forward. While not exactly a skyscraper, the project will result in a radical transformation of East Diamond Avenue, the main commercial street in downtown. Rather than looking like a museum piece, downtown Gaithersburg’s main street will soon look like a genuine city street for the first time in decades. Really great news, indeed.
Under construction now on Diamond Avenue. Click to enlarge.
Where downtown Gaithersburg goes from here is an open question. It could sit for another 10 years without any more activity, falling further behind the other urban centers in Gaithersburg and Montgomery County. Or, if most of the redevelopment called for in the 2003 plan actually happens, downtown Gaithersburg could take its rightful place alongside the Bethesdas and Rockvilles of the world.
Wouldn’t that be something.