Friday, July 16, 2010

Baby Steps Made, But Fight for Fillmore Music Hall Still Uphill Battle

Early last month the Montgomery County Planning Board approved preliminary plans for the Fillmore Music Hall and accompanying hotel and office buildings to built in Silver Spring; and just yesterday the Board gave a big thumbs up to the development team's most recent master plan and official plat. But a project that began in a buzz of ho-hum, high-fiving excitement has been slowed by lagging negotiations, and now a lawsuit filed recently by the owner of the 930 Club threatens to cast a dark cloud on groundbreaking celebrations set for later this fall.

The recently approved master plan roughly details the impending construction of a 135,300 s.f., 14-story hotel, a 12-story office building (5,500 s.f. reserved for retail use), and a 22,882 s.f., three-story music hall integrating the historic JC Penney facade and sides. The plan also calls for significant improvement to portions of the sidewalk and three street frontages.

Designers claim that the aesthetics of the planned structure fit with the surrounding buildings: standing mostly square, with no tower setbacks or height variance, and no significant differentiation of design or materials above the lower levels. The facade of the planned hotel reflects the fenestration and style typical of the era during which the adjacent Montgomery Arms apartment building was constructed. The JC Penney frontage, soon to be face of the Fillmore Music Hall, will be renovated in hopes of imitating the original San Francisco-based Fillmore West. Sporting dark red walls, vintage rock posters, and crystal chandeliers, the interior will also recall the first Fillmore, with the ability to house a standing room capacity of 2000 people. Hickok Cole Architects will design the new venue, along with the planned hotel and commercial buildings at Georgia Avenue.

The less daunting of the projects, the Fillmore Music Hall, will be constructed first. Upon completion of the building, the land and Music Hall will be donated to the County. This peculiar arrangement was part of the negotiations between the County and Lee Development Group (LDG) that made this entire $110 million redevelopment project possible. LDG's donation of the Music Hall will qualify as their public-space contribution required for their adjoining hotel and office space project. But the Fillmore Music Hall and its accompanying land (worth $3.5 million) hardly seems like a donation when Montgomery County and the state of Maryland have each agreed to subsidize the project to the tune of four million dollars, leaving LDG to foot only the remaining two of the ten million dollar budget. The transaction will afford LDG 15 years to complete the bordering project under current land use regulations, thereby protecting them from any financial complications or delays that may arise from future zoning rule changes or planning officials' interference. Once in the hands of Montgomery County, the Fillmore will be rented out to worldwide concert promoters and corporate entertainment giant Live Nation (their recent proposed merger with Ticket-master is currently stalled by anti-trust concerns). In 2008 Live Nation signed a $3.26 million, 20-year lease with the County, ending a tiresome six year negotiation process. Drawn out discussions with the Birchmere had previously unraveled.

All this might sound dandy to local concert goers, but Seth Hurwitz and his Bethesda-based company I.M.G., Inc, which owns the 930 Club and operates Merriweather Post Pavilion, finds the deal too sweet to be fair. Seemingly threatened by the new competition, and disenfranchised that he was not involved in negotiations for the lease of the new venue, Hurwitz has filed a lawsuit against the state alleging that the proper procedures for conducting financial feasibility and cost analysis studies, as required prior to allocation of funds, were not followed. The State and County believe they've done all that is required, but have not officially responded to the lawsuit. Until the lawsuit plays out, the state of Maryland is prohibited from matching the County's four million dollar pledge, but officials still expect ground to break later this fall, and to open the doors of the Fillmore in the fall of 2011. Local officials contend that the new development will not only be a tremendous new source of tax revenue and profits, as well as provide job creation, but also establish Silver Spring (with the AFI Theater right down the street) as a go-to destination for music, arts, and entertainment.

Renderings are courtesy of LDG.
Silver Spring real estate development news


IMGoph on Jul 16, 2010, 6:52:00 PM said...

tiny nit-pick: check out the last photo. it's spelled "penney", not "penny"

Brooks Butler Hays on Jul 16, 2010, 6:59:00 PM said...

fixed, thanks IMGoph

Ken on Jul 16, 2010, 8:39:00 PM said...

Note that it is spelled "Penney" on the original sign.

IMGoph on Jul 17, 2010, 1:18:00 AM said...

brooks: no worries!

ken: that's what i said.

tuppenceforthebirds said...

It's unfortunate, but the larger development looks to be nothing short of disappointing. It's massively overparked, the massing of the building's looks large and clumsy, and the County's $4 million subsidy to complete the music hall looks foolish given the current budget woes. I had hoped for better.

Anonymous said...

Considering the economic boost the whole area will get from this venue, I think it's a great idea. As for the surrounding buildings, they're all ugly, so what's another glass box?

As for Seth Horowitz, he sounds like a whiny kid who isn't getting his way, to monopolize all music venues in the area, boo hoo.

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