Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Bethesda Metro Center plaza debate takes new turn with potential sale of Clark Enterprises building

Brookfield's rendering of a"Central Lawn" behind
its planned 4 Bethesda Metro Center tower
The news that Clark Enterprises is testing the sales market for its headquarters building at 7500 Old Georgetown Road has further roiled a contentious debate over the future of the plaza their building shares. That debate has largely hinged on the question of whether developer Brookfield Property Partners should construct their planned 4 Bethesda Metro Center tower with open space behind it, or move the building further back, leaving room for green space closer to Wisconsin Avenue.
Clark Enterprises' Protect Bethesda Open Space
alternative vision with the green space in front
Clark has led an effort called Protect Bethesda Open Space, to argue for the street-facing open space. However, the company does not own the property in question, to which Brookfield has secured the development rights. Brookfield wasted no time in capitalizing on the Clark sale news to accuse the Bethesda firm of having been waging their campaign all along to ensure a better sale price for their headquarters.
"Now we know the truth about Clark’s game plan. Their priority was not to serve the best interests of the community. Rather, it was to protect their interests by moving our new building out of their view to protect their building’s sales price," Brookfield SVP and Regional Counsel Simon Carney wrote in an email Monday morning. "It’s doubtful that Clark will maintain its supposed commitment to Metro Center once they sell their building."

At the same time, a new effort by Bethesda residents who support Clark's vision of a large green space at the front of the plaza is gearing up for the June 27, 2018 Design Advisory Panel meeting on the project, which will be held at 11:30 AM that morning at 8787 Georgia Avenue. They are encouraging those who favor the Protect Bethesda Open Space vision of a larger green space to attend the meeting, and a pre-meeting briefing at 10:15 AM. A sign-up page with details has been posted online.

A 2016 study by Christopher Leinberger, Tracy Hadden Loh, and Richard Wilson of the George Washington University Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis made an argument similar to Clark's, in calling for the "most visible and publicly accessible open space" at the plaza. The study appears to have no affiliation with Clark Enterprises, which is not among the real estate firms listed on the CREUA Advisory Board.

Update - June 20: The article was updated to include new information about the GWU University study for an urban park at the Bethesda Metro Center plaza.


Justin said...

Clark being exposed for their selfish real estate grab is great. Thank you Brookfield.

Anonymous said...

It's shameful to see some members of the community siding with greedy and corrupt Clark. Clark has sat in that building 30 years without a care in the world about the sad state of the plaza.

Now that someone else finally comes along to improve it (and even with a new building it's a big improvement), they object and offer unsolicited opinions on property that isn't there's. Now we know why. Clark only opposes the planned park so that they can make more money off the building sale to some fat cat executive who wants his view down Wisconsin.

The community needs to mobilize to OPPOSE Clark's scheme against the new park, NOT SUPPORT IT.

Bobby in Bethesda said...

I was just in NYC and the street facing parks -- such as Washington Square Park -- add so much to the quality of life. Thousands of people were enjoying them! I have heard that developers in MoCo and MoCo's so-called Planning Department allow space that is not readily accessible or useful to the general public to be considered "public space" -- if true, this is a scam on the taxpayers. We need public space like NYC's Washington Square Park, that is readily accessible to all from public street -- because once lost, it is lost forever.

Anonymous said...

The community is mobilizing to oppose Brookfield's plan. Anyway, Clark's sale of the building doesn't affect what the community wants for Bethesda. It would be great to finally have a large, street-facing park in downtown Bethesda. We don't need any more hidden interior plaza space in Bethesda.

Let's call the new park "Casey's Corner #422" in support of Casey Anderson's publicity stunt to visit all MoCo parks; he can add this one to the end of his list of 421 parks in MoCo.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that a street facing park is always the right choice. In this location I can’t imagaine that any open space adjacent to Wisconsin, East-West Highway and Old Georgetown Road will ever be used as a comfortable public town square. Just too much noise from adjacent road. I really like the idea of an enhanced Metro Plaza, and a very nice and open accessway to a more sendlosed interior plaza.

A good example of why street facing parks do not work well on busy streets can be seen right across the street at the Chevy Chase Bank plaza. Actually a very nice green oasis, with very large shade trees, nice seating areas, a nice water feature, and a lawn panel and NO PEOPLE, except for a few at lunch time. Most folks just don’t want to relax only steps from fast moving cars, diesel buses and horn honking drivers.

The best idea I can offer is to emphasize how an improved internal plaza can be viewed from the street, how artwork can draw the eye into the plaza, how architecture can be open and welcoming and not overly close the vista into the internal area. Lifting the building up and exposing a wider vista will help draw the folks in. This would be a good time to make a more striking glass canopy for the Metro, cover some new up and down escalators and stairs. Perhaps a design that visually ties to the dramatic cantilevered green canopy that will be built over the Bethesda Purple Line Station.

As others have said, the ultimate challenge is to provide programming in any plaza that will draw in the public and keep them coming back. Line the perimeter with retail, cafes and restaurants in enough quality to create a critical mass so they can all survive. One Starbucks is not enough. All buildings on this plaza should be required to modify their floor plans to add quality transparent retail facades facing the plaza. Not financial institutions or stock brokers, but real retail. Hire someone who knows how to entice retailers in and create the critical mass that is needed to brand this space and pull this off.

I really like the idea to improve the lower level intermodal transit area and add logical easy access up to the plaza.

Maybe since Clark wants to sell, Brookfield can buy their building and open up and integrate the base of the Clark Building as well, with retail lining Old Georgetown Road and facing the new tower. Maybe they can improve the Clark Building facade as well, perhaps the ugliest and most boring buildings in town.

Unknown said...

While a small urban green space isn't as good as Cabin John Regional Park or even Elm Street Park in downtown Bethesda, it will be better to have it open toward Wisconsin Avenue than buried in a sea of high rise buildings. Some people will want to have lunch outdoors on a park bench like so many workers in downtown D.C. do at Farragut Square or the tiny James Monroe Park in the triangle created by 21st Street, I Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Sure there will be traffic whizzing by, but it is better than being in a high-rise canyon.