Monday, July 14, 2014
DEVELOPER SEEKS DEMOLITION OF BETHESDA AVE. ARCH TO ATTRACT RESTAURANT W/OUTDOOR PATIO (PHOTOS)
Attorney Pat Harris, of Lerch, Early & Brewer, has submitted the request to the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, along with a second request to convert Artery Plaza's art gallery into a fitness center.
The arch demolition would help activate the Bethesda Avenue streetscape, Harris wrote, by removing a "physical and psychological barrier" between pedestrians and the building itself. Removal of the arch would allow for an 825 square foot outdoor dining patio for a potential restaurant tenant on Bethesda Avenue, she said. Should JBG fail to attract a restaurant tenant, the removal would still make the space more viable and appealing to a retail tenant, Harris argued. JBG suggests that the building's current failure to attract a dining tenant is due to the lack of pedestrian activity along Bethesda Avenue.
A 30-year-old stipulation by the Planning Board requires Artery Plaza to maintain an art gallery "with as little spatial separation as possible" from the building's lobby, as part of the development's public space. JBG notes that Artery Plaza currently provides far more public space than required by the county, and proposes to only reduce that space by 2%. The company plans to make the lobby itself the art gallery, by installing artworks and lighting throughout the space.
Hours of the gallery were required to be noon to 8:00 PM on weekdays, and 12:00-6:00 PM on Saturdays. That past Planning Board condition also mandated the building's art gallery be open to the public for "at least six hours after 5:00 PM during the weekdays[,] and at least six hours on the weekends."
JBG proposes that the new lobby gallery would be open to the public 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM on weekdays, and from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM on Saturdays, holidays excepted. This would be a reduction in after-business-hours access from the original 1983/84 evening schedule for the gallery, but an increase in overall hours. Whether that meets the older vision for an after-hours cultural space will be determined by the Planning Board. The developer suggests the current gallery is underutilized by the public, and building workers. Do you work at, or visit, Artery Plaza? You can give your assessment of the current gallery's use in the comment section below.
The lobby installations would have some bench seating to encourage the public to sit down and view the artwork, Harris wrote. She said the new fitness center is essential to attract tenants in today's office market.
Losing the arch sure would eliminate a unique design touch from Artery Plaza. I do think JBG makes a very compelling case for doing so. While there is a decent amount of foot traffic along that side of Bethesda Avenue after dark, the block itself could fairly be described as dead at night. If Artery Plaza could indeed attract a good restaurant with outdoor seating, it would really help activate that block of Bethesda Avenue. I know some people still miss Montgomery's Grille, which made great use of the Wisconsin Avenue outdoor patio at Artery Plaza years ago.
Here are some blueprints, via JBG (All rights reserved by them); click to enlarge for greater detail: