American Dream meets reality Silver Spring megamall: Montgomery's Duncan showed courage in rejecting proposal.

November 14, 1996

LACKING POLITICAL WILL. Anti-business. Shortsighted. That's how critics described Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's decision to pull the plug on the American Dream Mall.

His action was none of those things. Mr. Duncan showed courage in severing ties on a $585 million project that could have energized Silver Spring, made his county a major tourism magnet and probably burnished his image as a can-do executive should he seek higher office.

Mr. Duncan had been uneasy that the developer, Triple Five Group, seemed to be spending more time soliciting government aid than in securing private support for its huge shopping HTC complex, complete with hotel, giant wave pool and IMAX theater. Best known for its mega-malls in Edmonton, Canada, and Bloomington, Minn., Triple Five produced a letter from its broker, Morgan Stanley and Co., that $350 million in capital could be raised. Mr. Duncan correctly concluded that such a vague forecast was insufficient to go to the state seeking $150 million for the project.

The developer bears responsibility for the collapse. State and county lawmakers seemed eager to back this project. But two months ago, the developer began hedging, asking for the public to pay half -- up to $300 million.

Mr. Duncan may have done the developer, Triple Five's Ghermezian brothers, a favor by not dragging them through a public bidding war. Such ventures may deserve a financial boost from government, but not of this magnitude. It would have been dead on arrival in Annapolis.

This proposal can still be resuscitated. We hope so, because it makes so much sense. It would revive a dying commercial population center. It would bring jobs and tourism dollars into Maryland.

Mr. Duncan was a great booster of this project. "I think I will be judged on what happens in Silver Spring," he said last month. That makes his decision to reject the American Mall plans, as submitted, an even greater display of political fortitude.

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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