Downtown Project Schedule Changes
by Greg Simmons
Gazette Staff Writer
Aug. 1, 2001
Retail won't wait for theater deal
A new construction and renting schedule for the county's Silver Spring redevelopment project de-emphasizes the role of a multiplex movie theater, which had been considered central to the success of the project.
The redevelopment area is a four-block section owned by the county and being developed by Foulger-Pratt Construction. Accounting for about $170 million in public money, the redevelopment project is part of about $1 billion public and private money being spent in Silver Spring over the next few years in development.
After a closed hearing Monday in front of the council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee regarding the project, members of the planning team told the committee in open session they are changing their plans because the deal with the theater company is progressing too slowly.
The original plan was to begin construction this fall on the phase involving the movie theater. Work would have begun on new garages, and then more retail and restaurant areas would have been added.
But the new schedule will begin building the retail portion first. This section includes refurbishing an old shopping center at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, and completing construction for the American Film Institute's Silver Theatre project.
The multiplex theater and surrounding projects such as a bookstore will be on hold until the movie theater deal is complete, said Gary Stith, who coordinates the redevelopment for the county.
"From our perspective, it makes sense" to change the plans, said Jerry Pasternak, the county's chief real estate negotiator. "There's enough interest [from tenants] that we don't have to sit around and wait" for the a deal with a movie theater company, he said.
Foulger-Pratt had originally entered an agreement with Edwards Cinema, but the company went bankrupt last August. Since September, Foulger-Pratt and the county have been trying to finalize a deal with Muvico, a company that brings extravagant theaters to new projects and often in redevelopment situations. The closest existing Muvico theater is the Egyptian 24 at Arundel Mills Mall.
The movie theater "was identified as a single point of failure for the project," said Dale Tibbitts, a civic association leader and Silver Spring resident. When the project began, Tibbitts said, the theater was seen as a necessity to draw retail stores and restaurants.
But Silver Spring projects like Discovery Communication's $160 million headquarters and AFI's project should be "enough of a draw to encourage investment in downtown, said Jeff Lebowitz, who sits on a county advisory board as a Silver Spring resident.
But while the role of the theater has been diminished, the project developer said a deal is still likely.
"We've had some delays in getting the movie deal finalized," project developer Bryant Foulger told the committee Monday.
Earlier this year, several movie companies began scaling back their expansion plans, including AMC, which owns the theater at City Place Mall in Silver Spring.
Muvico has signed a lease with Foulger-Pratt, but a deal cannot be complete until funding has been secured.
Muvico did not return a phone call to confirm or deny its current negotiating status.
Stith said the movie industry's problems and the national economic slowdown may keep the movie theater from finalizing its deal for another year, although he still expects it to come through.
"There's just a lot of things that impact on [the project] that we don't have any control over," Stith said.