Officials support plan for Silver Spring mall but balk at subsidy Legislators rule out $300 million public grant requested for project

September 17, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Key legislators said yesterday they would support significant state assistance for a proposed Silver Spring mega-mall development, but flatly ruled out a $300 million public subsidy.

Even the Montgomery County executive, who supports the so-called American Dream project, said the $300 million figure recently floated by a lobbyist for the developer is unrealistic.

"If they want to come to Maryland and invest their capital, we certainly want to help them out," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. "But we're not going to give away the store to try and get this project moving."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening stayed noncommittal yesterday, saying he had not received any formal request for state assistance.

The project -- expected to cost $600 million in all -- is being developed by the Canadian firm that co-developed the huge Mall of America in Minnesota and a similar-size mega-mall in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Silver Spring development, which planners hope will revitalize what used to be one of Montgomery County's premier retail areas, would be the nation's largest retail and entertainment complex, combining a huge mall, a luxury hotel, amusement park, aquarium and arts conservatory.

The Triple Five development group is now looking for private investors to come up with roughly half the project's cost.

A subsidy of anything close to $300 million would easily set a record for the most generous government assistance for a private development in Maryland, lawmakers and state officials say.

The state recently approved a package of $11.5 million for retraining and other assistance for Northrop Grumman Corp., which state officials say they believe is the largest amount of aid ever approved for a private firm in Maryland.

News that the Silver Spring developers could seek nearly $300 million in state and local aid surfaced in a recent letter to Montgomery County legislators from a lobbyist hired to sell the project in Annapolis, former state Sen. Laurence Levitan.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who has championed American Dream, said he had expected the state and local share would reach no more than 40 percent of the project's cost, or about $240 million.

"I think $300 million is too high," Duncan said.

The size of the possible state contribution inevitably recalled the battle earlier this year over approval of $270 million in state funding for the football stadiums being built in downtown Baltimore and Prince George's County.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he would support a state subsidy of as much as $150 million for the Silver Spring venture, on top of a Montgomery County share of some $80 million.

The Baltimore Democrat said he supports the project even though many Montgomery legislators fought bitterly against the Camden Yards football stadium.

"I'm not going to be as narrow-minded as some of my colleagues in Montgomery County," Rawlings said. "I'll look at the broader state and local issues."

A Republican leader in Annapolis said that he and other GOP members would oppose state aid for the project, just as many Republicans fought the stadiums during the 1996 legislative session.

"I took one look at [the proposed costs] and said, 'Man, oh man, no way this is going to happen,' " said Del. Robert H. Kittleman of Howard County, the House minority leader.

"The state shouldn't be there. The state should cut taxes and improve the business climate and let everybody benefit," he said.

Pub Date: 9/17/96

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