Montgomery County's latest attempt to revive downtown Silver Spring is smaller, cheaper, less glamorous -- and as a result, everyone appears much happier.
County Executive Douglas M. Duncan announced yesterday that four companies -- including RTKL Associates Inc. of Baltimore -- will develop a blueprint for a town center. The choice comes six months after Duncan killed the $585 million American Dream megamall amid stiff neighborhood opposition and questions about the project's financing.
"The longer we wait, the more expensive it's going to be," Duncan said. "We have the infrastructure in place in Silver Spring. We can't let it sit there unused."
The developers are Foulger-Pratt Companies of Rockville, the Peterson Companies of Fairfax, Va., and Argo Investment Co. of Rockville. RTKL Associates is the architect and MRA International of Philadelphia is the entertainment consultant.
The team will meet June 2 with a 31-member steering committee of residents and business leaders to begin discussing choices for the site at Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road.
In mid-November, Duncan terminated an agreement with the Canadian firm Triple Five Development to build American Dream, saying executives failed to produce "concrete evidence" of private investors. That made him unwilling to commit taxpayers' money -- about $250 million to $300 million -- to the project. American Dream would have converted a four-block area of vacant lots and empty storefronts into a megamall covering the equivalent of 21 football fields with attractions such as an indoor wave pool, 425-room luxury hotel, IMAX theater, and ice rink amid clusters of retail stores and restaurants.
Residents howled in protest at the size and lawns sprouted anti-mall signs.
It was evident at the news conference in Rockville that county officials had learned their lesson from the public relations fiasco.
For one thing, there was no immense plastic replica. Instead, the visuals consisted of a simple aerial photograph and a posterboard map of the site. Both Duncan and the developers stressed their local ties, going as far as to hand out biographies. And every speaker agreed on one thing: Silver Spring will not be getting a mall.
"I've said from the beginning that the county's problem in Silver Spring is that we've been trying to dictate to the market," said Duncan. "We need to let the market tell us what to do. Clearly, for any project to be successful, the marketplace has to set the tone."
"I heard a lot of really good things today," said Cynthia Rubenstein, a member of the steering committee and an opponent of the American Dream. "I heard a willingness to collaborate with the community and to tailor the project to the community needs and the market needs."
Pub Date: 5/14/97