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Montgomery County, WMATA Working On Deal For Life Sciences Hub At White Flint Metro

Montgomery County is looking to take advantage of its booming life sciences market with a new development around one of its underdeveloped Metro stations. 

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich

The county is working on a joint development agreement with WMATA that would allow it to build a life sciences hub next to the White Flint Metro station, County Executive Marc Elrich said Tuesday on Bisnow's Future of Montgomery County webinar.

Elrich said the parties are currently negotiating a memorandum of understanding and he expects to make a formal announcement with more details once a deal is finalized.

He said he has discussed the project with the National Institutes of Health, which is headquartered nearby, and is "excited" about the plans. He also said he is looking to bring a university presence to the development.  

"We need a center in Montgomery County that is identifiable. It needs to be on top of a Metro station, it needs to be bigger than a building," Elrich said. "It's got to be a deliberate effort to stimulate an area so this is a place people come and look at."

He said establishing a life sciences hub will help draw new businesses to the county. Developers and local officials have said Montgomery County is falling behind Northern Virginia and the District in attracting businesses. 

"It's the reason we have this partnership with WMATA and are going to do a joint development agreement: So we can be sure we can put on the ground the things that will finally give people a reason to say 'I want to come to Montgomery County,'" Elrich said. 

Clockwise from top left: American Gene Technologies' Jeff Galvin, Cushman & Wakefield's Revathi Greenwood, Stonebridge's Doug Firstenberg, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and Selzer Gurvitch Rabin Wertheimer & Polott's Bob Dalrymple.

The area around the White Flint Metro station in North Bethesda features a Metro parking garage, a WMATA office, a surface parking lot for the agency's buses and a large, undeveloped lot. Also near the station is the site of the former White Flint Mall, which has long been eyed for development. 

The owners of the White Flint mall site, Lerner Enterprises and Tower Cos., engaged in a lengthy legal dispute with Lord & Taylor, which was the only store still open on the property. Earlier this month, Lord & Taylor announced it would close the White Flint store after the company filed for bankruptcy. 

Also near the White Flint Metro station is the massive Pike & Rose mixed-use development from Federal Realty, a 5.9-acre site planned for 1,000 units from Grand Park Development and the Arrowwood multifamily project from LCOR. Elrich said he sees the White Flint area as a major growth opportunity for the county.

"I do think White Flint is key," Elrich said. "It is a huge area around the Metro that is grossly underdeveloped, you've got acres and acres at the Lerner property, you've got low-rise on the east side of the [Rockville] Pike that could easily be replaced." 

Elrich also said he is looking at a potential co-development deal at the Twinbrook Metro station, which is one stop north of the White Flint station. 

American Gene Technologies founder and CEO Jeff Galvin, whose biotech firm is based at 9713 Key West Ave. in Rockville, said he is interested in potentially relocating to the White Flint development. 

"When Marc told me about his vision for the Twinbrook-White Flint area, I said, 'I hope we grow fast enough to be your anchor tenant. Go ahead and plan that thing and I will take a half-million square feet,'" Galvin said. 

Galvin said he could see the White Flint area attracting other biotech companies to relocate from life sciences hubs in California and the Boston area. 

"Build a great environment and they'll come," Galvin said. "If you have a great environment, and all these high-paying jobs are coming to the White Flint area, guess what else will come: all the restaurants."

Cushman & Wakefield Global Head of Data and Insights Revathi Greenwood said she expects the coronavirus pandemic will create growth in Montgomery County's life sciences market as companies in the area work to develop a vaccine. 

"The life sciences sector was historically strong, it has become even stronger now with a focus on COVID-19," Greenwood said. "The suburban-urban revival narrative also plays into that."