The Purple Line has claimed its second victim in the downtown Bethesda business community in three days. United Bank accepted its final transactions in the historic Community Paint and Hardware building at 7250 Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda midday Wednesday. At 2:00 PM, the bank closed its doors forever.
By early evening, the bank's signage had been stripped, and the building was literally boarded up. Customers were redirected to the United branch at 7845 Wisconsin Avenue. All accounts here have been consolidated there.
The Purple Line light rail project is quickly becoming a proven job killer in Bethesda, as the restaurant next door, Food Wine & Co., closed forever Sunday night. Its ownership cited the Purple Line specifically as the reason for its closure. That business was in the Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin, which will be demolished at an undetermined date in the future to make way for a Purple Line station. The new owner, Carr Properties, took possession of the building recently. It has put forward a promising redevelopment plan.
“We believe that the Apex site, as redeveloped, will be the new commercial hub of the Bethesda market with unparalleled access to public transportation, bike trails and the thriving restaurant and retail of Bethesda Row. We could not be more excited about this opportunity for our company,” Oliver Carr, III, Carr Properties’ CEO, said in a statement announcing the acquisition.
This now-former bank building figures prominently in that plan. It must move in order to provide the footprint to allow for a replacement cineplex for the Regal Cinemas Bethesda 10. The Regal is the only cineplex in downtown Bethesda that shows mainstream blockbuster movies.
One study has shown that a multi-screen cineplex like Regal draws an additional 20,000 people into a downtown area every weekend. As you can imagine, permanent loss of this economic engine would be a complete disaster for the downtown Bethesda economy. The "dinner and movie" business is huge, as any restaurateur within walking distance of Regal can tell you.
I thought every member of the Montgomery County Council and Planning Board revealed themselves to a person as unfit for office a few years ago, when not a single one of them spoke up to preserve a cineplex when a different Apex Building deal was under discussion. To have that poor of a knowledge of basic economics of cities, and hold office in arguably the most-educated jurisdiction in America, is simply astonishing.
No one is more concerned about historic preservation than I am. And I think we need to do everything we can to ensure that this historic building moves somewhere in downtown Bethesda (the building was already moved once to make way for the Apex Building in the late 1980s). It dates back to the 1890s, when it was a general store and post office. Historians believe it was the only retail store in Bethesda at the turn of the century in 1900.
But if you tell me the choice is losing the building versus destroying the economy of downtown Bethesda, I will have to pick the cineplex over the historic building. I sure don't like the idea. But we don't have much choice. The stakes are too high.
I commend Carr for proposing to include space for a cineplex in the new project. Now our incompetent "leaders" have to make sure it ends up happening. Let's hope the Council does a better job finding a place for this historic building than they've done finding a new school bus depot.