Please Come Back to Rockville (or Bethesda or Germantown...)

Desperate for attention from millennials, Montgomery County is trying to make itself hip and urbane, and there's no cooler way to do that than a government task force.

By: Benjamin Freed

Montgomery County is apparently so envious of all the young adults moving to the District and Northern Virginia, it will attempt to legislate hipness. The county’s “Nighttime Economy Task Force” has concluded six months of investigations into how to promote youth culture and yesterday presented a list of recommendations for policies it believes could entice people between the ages of 20 and 34 to move to Montgomery, which has the DC area’s highest concentration of residents over 65.

The policy prescriptions range from music venues to late-night food trucks and revamped liquor laws. With few big music venues like Strathmore and the Fillmore Silver Spring, the county is looking to encourage smaller joints that can host younger and cheaper acts that draw in those millennial weeknight crowds that places like U Street’s DC9 or Arlington’s Galaxy Hut attract. To that end, the task force suggests the creation of a county government “concierge service” that can assist businesses in navigating entertainment, liquor, and noise ordinances.

The task force proposes the creation of so-called “urban noise areas” in town centers such as Rockville’s Town Square and Silver Spring Veterans Plaza, where music could be blasted at 85 decibels late at night. It also calls for tax credits to encourage more venues.

For the task force’s biggest gripe, there may be nothing bureaucrats can do: “The quality of entertainment is uneven and audiences are sparse,” a draft of report reads. Heather Dlhopolsky, a 34-year-old lawyer who led the task force, says that language will change in the final version to be delivered next week, but it is in reference to a proposed tax credit to help venues pay musicians a living wage.

For bars, the task force wants to extend closing time until 3 AM on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays before federal holidays to match the District’s drinking hours. It also calls for rebalancing the 50-50 balance between alcohol and food that restaurants are required to maintain to a slightly boozier 60-40 split.

Dlhopolsky says her 19-member task force was charged with figuring out how to expand Montgomery County's appeal to younger age groups. The county is home to 193,214 people between the ages of 20 and 34, according to US Census figures.

"We do well in attracting seniors and empty-nesters," she says, adding that downtown Bethesda, with its restaurant- and shop-filled streets has been a magnet for people looking to downsize from a big house to a condominium or apartment.

Some developers are trying to skew Montgomery County younger with new mixed-use complexes, such as Pike & Rose in Rockville's White Flint neighborhood that will contain more than 2.5 million square feet of new high-end residential and commercial space when it is finished.

Other task force recommendations include allowing food trucks to operate in entertainment districts after 10 PM, expanding pedestrian and bicycle access, and adding more late-night transit options.

But if Montgomery County is serious about getting hip, it might want to first follow through on improving its music listings before increasing mass transit. After all, if the bands aren’t any good, all those millennials could wind up looking at their watches for a third time, waiting in the station for the bus. (Back to DC.)