Dream or nightmare? Silver Spring renewal: $500 million megamall complex proves controversial.

March 11, 1996

MONTGOMERY COUNTY Executive Douglas M. Duncan's endorsement of the planned $500 million American Dream retail and entertainment complex in downtown Silver Spring edges that ambitious 28-acre project closer to realization. Many hurdles remain, though, and opponents still regard the megamall as a nightmare.

Baltimoreans often view Montgomery County as this rich D.C. suburb whose concerns are far removed from ours. This is true -- and false. A look at two of its key urban cores, Rockville and Silver Spring, shows that neither has been immune to the decay and abandonment seen in downtown shopping districts in aging big cities. Their downtown deterioration is even more startling because the cycle from boom to bust happened in less than five decades.

The American Dream complex, advocated by a Canadian group that has built similar monster malls in Edmonton and near Minneapolis, wants to demolish and redevelop several blocks of vacant commercial structures at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Route 29. "This is something that will push the rebirth of Silver Spring," Mr. Duncan said. "It will not only be successful on its own but it will create other successes around it."

Opponents disagree. They say the mall would cause major environmental and traffic problems that would make the downtown area even less appealing.

Now it is on to the county planning commission, which may insist on changes in scale and concept. Then comes the question of government aid at a time when mall retailing is in decline. Throughout the months ahead, officials will have to come to grips with these knotty questions: Is this a viable commercial project worthy of a sizable government investment? Or is it an idea that might work better at some other location in Montgomery County?

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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