Discovery plans taking shape
by Theodore Kim
Gazette Staff Writer
Apr. 5, 2000
After nearly two years of planning and design, Discovery Communications has moved closer to breaking ground for a new corporate headquarters in downtown Silver Spring.
The Bethesda-based media firm last week sent detailed drawings, as well as a site application to the county Park and Planning Commission for inspection. The move signals the near conclusion of a lengthy county review process intended to scrutinize every aspect of the building's design, officials said.
A final public hearing on the Discovery plans is tentatively scheduled for late May before construction begins this summer, said Larry Ponsford, a senior planner at the Park and Planning Commission.
The $150 million building, slated for completion in 2002, is the key component to Silver Spring's ongoing half-billion-dollar redevelopment.
"It's going to be a beautiful building," said Councilman Derick Berlage (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring. "I think people will really be surprised at how good it looks."
In February, Discovery revealed the first glimpses of the headquarters' design in its preliminary project plan to county planners.
The large L-shaped structure will hold almost 150,000 square feet of office space -- roughly the size of three football fields.
The building also will comprise a 350-foot-tall steel spire, dubbed the Discovery Tower.
The spire, nearly twice as high as the massive offices housing the National Oceanic and Space Administration on East-West Highway, will be the tallest structure in Montgomery County, officials said.
With the Discovery building nearing its long-awaited ground-breaking, authorities and residents are closely gauging the progress of other major projects in Silver Spring's revitalization.
*The California-based American Film Institute is set to begin its $18 million overhaul of the downtown Silver Theatre within weeks. The structure will house a restored main screen, two smaller theaters, AFI offices and play host to an annual global documentary festival beginning late next year.
*Officials are aiming to begin preliminary construction on the new $40 million Silver Spring Transit Center in July. The center, scheduled for completion in late 2002, will be a nexus for public transportation, house shops and eateries, and will feature a roofed, cascading walkway dubbed the "urban spine."
*The relocation of the Tastee Diner from Georgia Avenue to a site on downtown Cameron Street is set to take place sometime in May, said Doug Korber, project manager for HESS Construction. Workers plan to move the diner's entire fašade to the new cross-town site using a giant truck designed to transport modular houses, Korber said.
*Discovery employees are set to move later this month into the former Caldor building in South Silver Spring. The firm, in addition to its downtown project, has renovated the structure into a technology center and media archive.
*Industrial Photo, a longtime downtown fixture, has moved to a newly refurbished store on Georgia Avenue in South Silver Spring.
*Other private projects either already under way or slated to begin construction later this year include: Fresh Fields' supermarket, a 200-room high-rise hotel, a new multilevel bookstore and a 20-screen Edwards Cinemas complex.