Developers Adjust Plans for Silver Spring
Focus Shifts to 'Restaurant Row'; Efforts to Land Movie Theater Encounter Setbacks
By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 1, 2001
Developers behind the ambitious plans to revive downtown Silver Spring announced this week that they have shuffled their priorities, opting to speed up construction of a "restaurant row" and tempering their hopes of attracting a major movie theater chain any time soon.
Those planning a Silver Spring revival have long counted on a mainstream cinema to anchor the next stage of the $400 million development, but a deal with a national theater chain remains elusive.
Instead, Montgomery County officials said developers will move ahead with construction of a sizable stretch of restaurants and shops.
The shift, they said, does nothing to alter their confidence that the urban renewal effort -- one of the largest ever undertaken in Maryland -- remains vibrant. When complete, downtown Silver Spring is expected to be transformed by a bounty of shops and eateries, an art house theater and the towering new headquarters of Discovery Communications Inc.
"What's so great is that a number of the [potential] tenants saw the arrival of Discovery and realized they will have customers even without the movie theaters," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who has invested much political capital in the redevelopment. "There's been a change in the marketplace that essentially means we'll see things moving even faster."
One of the principal developers, Bryant Foulger, said yesterday that efforts to lure a movie theater have been stymied by lean times in the theater industry, resulting from a glut of faltering old-style cinemas, increased competition from stadium-seat megaplexes and a string of box-office bombs.
Last year, negotiations with Edwards Cinemas, of Newport Beach, Calif., fell apart when the chain was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. More recent discussions with Florida-based Muvico Theaters have not proceeded as quickly as Foulger had hoped, though they are ongoing.
"There's been a lot of fallout and weakness in the movie theater industry for developers all over the country," Foulger said. "That has certainly affected us. But we are fortunate that retailers still view Silver Spring as a terrific opportunity."
The first phase of the project, which included a hardware store and a Fresh Fields supermarket, was finished during the past year.
Under the revised plans, the next phase will involve construction of 75,000 square feet of space for restaurants and shops, beginning before year's end.
Developers have contracts with five restaurants and three specialty retailers, but they would not reveal the names of those tenants.
The new section, which Duncan called "restaurant row," will stretch from Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue to the historic Silver Theater, which is being renovated and will screen art films and serve as the home of the American Film Institute when completed next year.
Across Colesville Road is the site of a $150 million Discovery complex, a separate development that will include a 350-foot tower.
It will be the tallest building in the area and the workplace for about 1,500 employees.
Discovery is a major provider of cable television programming.
Since the 1980s, few issues have dominated debate in Montgomery as much as the redevelopment of this declining downtown.
Officials and residents feared that if the deterioration continued downtown, which is just north of the District along Georgia Avenue, it would creep into nearby residential communities.
County Council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large), a Silver Spring lawyer, said that a briefing from developers on Monday convinced him that none of the latest changes will alter the county's vision for downtown.
"I don't think we should be obsessed with whether movie theaters come or not," Silverman said. "It's nice to say you're moving as fast as you want to go on every section, but it's not going to make or break the future of downtown Silver Spring."
© 2001 The Washington Post Company