|Office tower above retail|
facing Wisconsin Avenue,
with public plaza on corner
along Elm Street
and the pedestrian
|Pedestrian connection to|
Woodmont Plaza at
Bethesda Row (note
that JBG's new retail
building and office building
are included in this image)
One major concern with the redevelopment of the Apex Building since discussions began several years ago was the potential loss of the Regal Cinemas Bethesda 10 theater. Since purchasing the property, Carr has included a replacement theater space in its sketch plans. At the last meeting, the theater space was dependent upon the removal of the historic Community Paint and Hardware Building from the site.
Now it sounds as if Carr may have found a way to work around that problem. Austen Holderness, Managing Director of Development for Carr Properties, said that they are working to find a destination for the hardware building. But if that can't be found in time, he said the building could be temporarily relocated while the cineplex is built below grade, and then moved back onto the site.
Sponseller said the continued presence of the building could require design compromises at that part of the office tower, but it sounds as if the issue is no longer a derailing threat for the theater. Any move of the building will have to be approved in a separate process from the site plan.
Regal Cinemas has a right-to-return clause in its lease, so the chain will have the first opportunity to lease the theater space. Given the plans described last night for a superior plaza, dining and retail to what is there now, and the demographics of the area, coming back should be a no-brainer for Regal.
|Cineplex space fronting|
onto Wisconsin Avenue with
lobby at street level and
theater auditoriums below grade
|Also at this level with the|
theater auditoriums will be
the Purple Line station and
a Capital Crescent Trail
Harris said Carr's proposal will be "transit-oriented development of the first order," and Holderness promised it will be "a phenomenal project for Bethesda." Obtaining final site plan approval will probably take five to six months, Harris predicted.
The project will include 400-450 luxury apartments, ranging from studios to three-bedrooms, with the entrance and lobby on the Elm Street side. Elm Street will shrink down to two lanes from the current three (counting parking/turning lane), more like it is down along Bethesda Row. Those apartments will be "larger than we see typically," Sponseller said. 12.5% of the units will be MPDUs. Carr is aiming for at least a "Gold" LEED certification.
Rounding out the project will be 350,000 SF of office space, 10,000-12,000 SF of retail and the cineplex, 800 parking spaces, and the 5,000 SF public plaza at the corner of Elm and Wisconsin. There will be elevators down to the Metro station and Purple Line station at that corner, as well, and a couple of courtyards between the towers.
One resident expressed concern about the potential for the plaza to be an empty space like the current plaza at the Bethesda Metro Center. Sponseller said that Metro plaza was poorly planned, and is too large. The key is to design a plaza that is "not so vast that you feel uncomfortable," Sponseller said. Holderness said they hope to have "cafes ringing the plaza," with outdoor dining.
Sponseller announced that renowned landscaping architecture firm Oehme, van Sweden is partnering with them to design the plaza. He said his design team is "very proud" of what they have come up with for the pedestrian connection between Wisconsin and the plaza on Woodmont Avenue. "Think of a nice Italian villa with that graceful staircase," Sponseller suggested. Improving that connection is something many readers of this blog have been asking for in the comments over the years.
In terms of the building design, Sponseller said to expect something more sophisticated than old-fashioned brick, which doesn't work well in a project of these dimensions. He said he is conscious that this high-profile project "demands great design, and that's our goal. When you drive around the city, you see the tops of buildings, and those should be compelling."
Before the really nice part gets built, though, the guts of the project have to go in first. Carr's team will construct "the tube," which will contain the Purple Line platform, and the respective transit authorities will work on the tunnel and station access connections. "We firmly believe our plan is an improvement over their base [station] design," Holderness said.
The County will have to construct the CCT tunnel beneath Wisconsin. Tunneling will require MTA to close Elm Street for an extended period. "Won't that be fun?" Harris asked jokingly.
While the phasing of the Purple Line station and facilities is set in stone by the MTA to be completed by the end of 2018, no phasing for the rest of the project has been determined yet. Delivery of the towers is expected to take two years after the completion of the station.
There's a lot to like about this project. The same architecture firm was behind high-rise developments like VITA in Tysons (visible from the taller rooftops in downtown Bethesda), which is part of the same site housing the trophy Tysons Tower office building, home to Intelsat and Deloitte among others. They also designed One West Baltimore, which, like this project, has 450 units.
I mention Tysons Tower because 7272 Wisconsin could join Pike & Rose as a front runner for the new Marriott headquarters. In fact, since Marriott has said that - particularly after the Starwood merger - they might lease space in more than one building, they could split between the two. Both are at or on top of Metro stations.
Having a great building for them won't make Montgomery County's anti-business County Council and their crazy policies disappear, or make the incentive package for Marriott any bigger. But the passage of term limits this November - and the new, private MoCo Economic Development Corporation coming online in July - might just help us change that in time to get a trophy tenant for Carr's project.
of Elm Street will
be part of the underground
|Attorney Bob Harris of|
Lerch, Early & Brewer
is representing Carr
|Architect Robert Sponseller|
presents the site plan