In a major step toward bringing the nation's largest retail and entertainment complex to Silver Spring, Montgomery County officials yesterday agreed to join forces with a Canadian real estate firm to develop the $585 million project.
The agreement to proceed with the so-called American Dream represents the latest in a decade-long effort to revitalize a 28-acre tract in Silver Spring's derelict urban core, roughly equivalent in size to downtown's Charles Center.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, in announcing the agreement with Triple Five Development Eastern Ltd., compared the project to Harborplace, the Rouse Co.'s festival marketplace that revitalized the Inner Harbor 16 years ago.
"This project would take a troubled area and turn it around with a major attraction virtually overnight," Mr. Duncan said.
"It would do a lot for Silver Spring."
Like Harborplace when it was proposed, though, the American Dream has been castigated by local residents and merchants who argue that the planned 2.1 million-square-foot project -- twice as big as the White Marsh Mall in Baltimore County -- would be too large and create traffic and other problems.
Triple Five, the same group that co-developed the mammoth Mall of America in Minnesota and a similar-size mega-mall in Edmonton, Alberta, estimates that the American Dream would create as many as 12,000 jobs and have an economic impact in excess of $1 billion annually. County officials declined to corroborate those figures, however.
"We're taking a concept that has been suburban in nature and transferring it to an urban setting and adding specific features for that setting," said Shawn Shamsian, Triple Five's president. "We believe this will be a prototype for urban revitalization, and we believe we'll be creating entertainment diversity for both residents and tourists."
Similar in scope to the 4.2 million-square-foot Mall of America, the American Dream is being planned as a combination shopping mall, 500-room luxury hotel, amusement park, aquarium and arts conservatory in one.
In addition to 600,000 square feet of pure retail space, the project would contain an indoor wave pool, a National Hockey League-sized ice skating rink, restaurant pavilion, dinner theaters, an IMAX and cinema complex and miniature golf course. Various cultural and educational attractions also would be included.
The dream is far from reality, however. County officials cautioned that the agreement, the first major step since the project was announced last August, is contingent upon Triple Five obtaining private financing commitments over the next six months.
Mr. Shamsian said Triple Five officials already have received expressions of interest from various lenders, and that a trip to New York to explain the project to others is being planned.
It's expected to be a hard sell.
"No one knows what the appetite for this is going to be on Wall Street," said one consultant to the project. "Entertainment seems to be the direction where malls are headed, but it's a relatively new concept."
"The success of Mall of America makes entertainment-oriented projects appealing to us; however, projects with such a large scope really aren't part of our investment plan at this point," said Reginald Long, an assistant director of mortgage and real estate investments with Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, the New York-based pension fund that jointly developed Mall of America with Triple Five and Melvin Simon & Associates.
Montgomery County has pledged to provide tax breaks, lease parking facilities and other incentives, but specific figures have yet to be determined. The county also plans to donate $71 million in land to the project. In exchange, the county anticipates that it would receive $7 million annually in revenue from the American Dream.
Completion of even an initial phase of the American Dream is at least five years away, based on schedules released by the county.
Still, county officials believe that the American Dream represents the best hope of stemming the urban decline that has gripped Silver Spring in recent years.
"Silver Spring as an entity is losing millions of dollars a year because of a dramatic decrease in property taxes, because companies are leaving and creating vacancies," said Susan Hoffmann, director of community and government relations with the Silver Spring Redevelopment Office.
"What we're hearing is that they're leaving because there are so few amenities. The American Dream would go a long way toward solving that problem."
The project would also be expected to attract a good portion of the more than 20 million tourists that visit Washington, D.C., every year.
Pub Date: 5/03/96