Monday, July 14, 2014


A Bethesda building could lose a distinctive architectural detail to make room for outdoor dining, if the Montgomery County Planning Board grants a developer's site plan amendment request. The JBG Companies/7200 Wisconsin, LLC would like to demolish an arch and stone walls on the Bethesda Avenue side of the Artery Plaza building, with plans to replace them with an outdoor dining patio for a speculative restaurant tenant. That arch is located just east of the portion of the building that abuts the driveway entrance for garage parking off of Bethesda Avenue (it is not pictured in the above photo, which is taken from the Wisconsin Avenue side).

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:


Anonymous said...

We went to a pop-up gallery in that space a few years ago, and the lobby doors were already locked early in the evening and we had to wait to be noticed before we could get in. That's not exactly conducive to showing art.

It doesn't help that there's not much foot traffic or anything else to attract after-work-hours activity on this corner.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea there was an art gallery there.

Anonymous said...

The last dining establishment there used the site as is. It was fine, the only problem was the food.

That was maybe 10 years ago.

Steve D. said...

Yeah, Montgomery's Grille didn't seem to have much trouble filling tables with the arch there. Although I guess something must have done them in.

Craig said...

Montgomery Grille was great for happy hours. The restaurant had tables in the courtyard area and it was a good meeting spot for happy hours. I loved the high ceilings and overall decor of MG. The food was average and I would not be surprised if patrons voted with their feet to eat at other establishments.

I hope a new restaurant takes over the location.

Vincent Brannigan said...

It is an incredibly HOSTLE supposedly public space. The huge signs put up for the building make it appear to be private space belonging to the building.

The landscaping is a pedestrian deathtrap