Mother of all malls American Dream: Mammoth shopping-entertainment project sought for Silver Spring.

September 14, 1996

A COMPUTER SEARCH of the words "dream" and "Washington" and "mall" heretofore would mostly turn up references to Martin Luther King's famous civil rights' speech before the Lincoln Memorial. From now on, that same cyber-surf would lead to a much different type of dream: a $600 million shopping complex proposed outside D.C. in Silver Spring.

The unabashedly named American Dream Mall is so grand that its plans conjure up the kind of wonderment and disbelief that greeted Jim Rouse's Harborplace or Walt Disney's "World." This project is part Inner Harbor, part Orlando and part Adventure World. At 2 million square feet, it would swallow 10 Harborplaces, or a half-dozen White Marsh malls.

Unlike suburban shopping centers and other projects that have raised the ire of environmentalists for abetting sprawl, this one has received the blessing of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Sierra Club and others because it would help rejuvenate an urban area inside the Capital Beltway.

The developers, members of the Ghermezian family, are strikingly novel themselves. Their lineage traces from Spain to Russia to Iran to Canada, where they built the world's largest shopping center in Edmonton. They followed it up in 1992 with the largest U.S. mall, the Mall of America in Minnesota. What has officials in Montgomery County and Maryland excited is the developers' track record elsewhere with projects as complex as their American Dream.

This center could be an enormous boost for the state's tourist industry, luring D.C. tourists into Maryland rather than Virginia. Indeed, recent reports have attested to the huge appeal of PTC shopping to international visitors.

The timing of this project -- to encompass a hotel, water park, aquarium and ice rink -- may raise the most skepticism: Can a seemingly saturated retail market sustain this mall (although this tourism/entertainment concept is more geared to an entire metropolitan area than is a typical shopping mall)? Will the state pony up $150 million in aid being sought, in the wake of last year's north-south football stadium ruckus? Will this help the governor bolster flagging support in vote-rich Montgomery County, or elevate a potential challenger, County Executive Douglas Duncan? Obviously, the economic development considerations of this rare proposal must outweigh political ones.

Pub Date: 9/14/96

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