In downtown Bethesda, county likely to re-up BUP -- Gazette.Net


The red squares with Bethesda UP are everywhere in downtown Bethesda — on signs advertising summer concerts, maps on street corners and the sides of the free circulator bus.

And the community likely will see them for at least five more years.

County Council analysts on Oct. 29 recommended giving the Bethesda Urban Partnership another five-year term, its fourth. The partnership is a nonprofit, hired by Montgomery County, that markets and maintains downtown Bethesda and runs the circulator, formerly the Bethesda 8 Trolley. About 315,000 people ride the circulator each year, according to county documents.

The county’s Office of Legislative Oversight conducted 18 interviews with county staff and community representatives who work with the partnership, and every interviewee reported satisfaction with the group’s work, according to its report.

Among those interviewed were representatives from Bethesda Cares, a nonprofit dedicated to helping the homeless; the Montgomery County Police Department; and the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce.

Run by an 11-member board comprising residents, business owners and developers appointed by the county executive, Bethesda Urban Partnership is funded primarily by revenue generated from Bethesda Parking Lot District fees, plus taxes and other fees.

The partnership spent $4.3 million in fiscal 2013 on the circulator, marketing, special events, landscaping and other expenses. That has dropped from five years ago, when the partnership spent $4.5 million, according to county documents.

Dave Dabney, executive director of the partnership, said the partnership has mapped out a plan for the next five years with the board’s help and input from residents.

“Bethesda is changing. It’s no longer a pass-through on the way to Washington, D.C.,” Dabney said. “It is in and of itself a destination.”

With the galloping growth of downtown Bethesda — about 2,000 new apartments are under construction — more people will turn to public transportation, he said.

“Really what we are seeing is people wanting to live where they work,” Dabney said.

And the Bethesda Urban Partnership plans to continue making the area a hot place to live by sponsoring festivals and events such as the Bethesda Literary Festival, the Bethesda Fine Arts Festival and Taste of Bethesda.

A County Council Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee meeting on the report is scheduled for Nov. 18.