Discovery deal approved
Construction of $160 million project to begin in fall
Montgomery Journal staff writer
June 7, 2000
A key piece in the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring - the
construction of a new Discovery Communications world headquarters - was
approved last week by the county planning board.
The approval, according to one county official involved in the
redevelopment, is a major step in the $450 million revitalization project,
which is designed to pull Silver Spring out of a decades-long recession and
transform it into a bustling commercial district.
Discovery's involvement has had a huge impact on the success of the
redevelopment project so far, according to Douglas Wrenn, the county's
director of the redevelopment program, and has boosted the area's real
``There's been a lot of interest in what opportunities there are in new and
existing space," said Wrenn. ``It's clearly because of the progress we're
The American Film Institute's renovations to the Silver Theatre and
construction on the first phase of the Downtown Silver Spring project have
already begun on the block next to Discovery's new site. One block in the
other direction, the county will develop the Silver Spring Transit Center
over the next two years.
``Discovery and AFI have done a great job in turning Silver Spring around,"
said William Hussman, planning board chairman. ``But the other pieces are
still important. They just all add together."
The next step for the project is obtaining building permits.
While Discovery won't be the only construction in Silver Spring over the
next few years, it will be one of the most expensive projects. The $160
million project will begin construction this fall and take about 18 months,
according to Dom Fioravanti, senior vice president of administration for
Discovery Communications and senior executive on the project.
Discovery Communications, a media company that produces and distributes
multi-media and television programming such as the Discovery Channel, the
Learning Channel and Discovery.com, has grown up in Montgomery County, he
said. But when the company found itself spread out in six rented spaces in
Bethesda, wanting to consolidate in one location, Silver Spring was the
only place with the space, Fioravanti said. The company was also interested
in getting involved in the redevelopment of a local urban area, he said.
The 3.44 acre site, bounded by Georgia Avenue, Colesville Road and Wayne
Avenue, will include 478,898 square feet of office space, a garden and
indoor exhibits. About 1,500 of Discovery's 4,000 employees worldwide will
work in the building.
Another 500 will work in the Discovery.com building on East-West Highway in
south Silver Spring, which is already being renovated.
The debate at the planning board hearing Thursday came down to how to
organize the open space associated with the project, Hussman said.
The main building will not include retail space as it did in the original
proposal. Discovery took the space out of the plans to encourage its
employees to patronize existing businesses around the complex and make
Discovery part of the community.
The planning staff recommended that retail space along Colesville Road and
in the garden be put back to enliven the street. But the board decided in
favor of other ``street-activating uses," such as artwork and kiosks after
hearing arguments from the community against retail space.
Discovery wants to put artwork and kiosks along the road and in the
The board also allowed Discovery to keep a fence planned for around the
garden. The planning staff argued that the fence would not send a welcoming
signal to the public, but Discovery's wanted to better secure the area for
employees working after-hours.
Even after all the construction is complete the county should continue to
be involved in Silver Spring to ensure progress continues, Wrenn said.
``The county needs to play a role to make sure the revitilization continues
and momentum continues," he said. ``But the approval of the plan is a big