Ever since Washington, D.C.'s 103-mile metropolitan rail system began operating in 1976, development around its 83 stations has boomed. Everywhere, that is, but in Silver Spring, a Maryland suburb that shares a border with the District.
For nearly two decades, a site in the center of the original business district sat vacant, despite its premium location across the street from a Metro rail/bus transfer node. Developers kept putting up proposals, only to have them fall through. The last of these failed efforts was a plan for something called the American Dream Mall, a two-million-sf extravaganza by a Canadian developer, but neither the city nor Montgomery County could come up with the money to finance it.
In 1994, with Silver Spring slipping from its position as the county's economic heart to its center of blight, Douglas Duncan won the County Executive election on a pledge to revitalize Silver Spring. Duncan contended that the root cause of the string of failures was the attempt to hit a home run with a single project. Based on input from a 50-member redevelopment steering committee, he urged a more tempered approach, utilizing a combination of smaller projects.
The redevelopment plan, managed by Washington-area developers Foulger-Pratt and The Peterson Companies, in conjunction with Montgomery County, centered on a 20-acre retail/entertainment center. The county assembled the land and leases it to Foulger-Pratt and Peterson under a long-term agreement. The joint venture is developing 450,000 sf of entertainment and retail space, 180,000 sf of office space, two parking structures, and a 45,000-sf civic building.
The redevelopment effort has given Silver Spring (population: 76,540) renewed ability to attract some of the commercial and cultural activities that neighboring areas have siphoned away. Foulger-Pratt principal Bryant Foulger notes that 500,000 people live within a five-mile radius, and 30,000 are employed in downtown Silver Spring.
"The remarkable demographics of the area have been overlooked for a long time," he says. "Earlier development attempts were aimed at serving the entire metropolitan area. We realized that we would be successful just taking care of the Silver Spring market."
The following pages describe the two key elements in the rebirth of Silver Spring: the construction of a headquarters facility for Discovery Communications, and the restoration and modernization of the Silver Theater cinema, which Duncan calls "the crown jewel" of a $400 million public/private investment in the revitalization of Silver Spring.