SILVER SPRING DOWNTOWN – TODAY & TOMORROW
Reemberto Rodriguez October 18, 2012
Silver Spring has sprung. Now it is ready to soar!
Today’s downtown Silver Spring is a vibrant, full-of-life urban place where community and commerce intersect to create culture at its best. Even in light of the recent recession and lack-luster national economic recovery, Silver Spring’s downtown is weathering the storm with strong resiliency. The redevelopment plans conceptualized two decades ago and built over the last decade are coming to fruition not only in the core of downtown, but throughout all of downtown; from Spring Ave on the north to Montgomery College on the south; on East-West Highway; the Ripley District; and Fenton Village.
In these times of problems in the housing market, Silver Spring’s downtown is in the midst of adding over 5,000 apartments during this decade. The apartment construction boomlet seems to have no end in sight. There are major developments under construction in every corner of downtown, and many others approved for the future. There’s even one proposed office building that is seeking approval to change its design to become an apartment development. These developments are happening throughout downtown and not concentrated in one single area.
- South Silver Spring has become a prominent residential urban neighborhood with its own major street festival, posed for an increase in supportive retail and cuisine opportunities, and – thanks to Montgomery College – a state-of-the art Cultural Center. The recently opened 1200 East West Hwy Apartments (247 units) occupies one of the last remaining opportunities for development along this major corridor. On the west side of Georgia Avenue, the façade of the historic Dry Cleaning Institute is being integrated in the design of a 210 units complex under construction.
- In the Fenton Village area the challenge continues to be incorporating the proposed developments into the existing fabric of small businesses, restaurants, and service retail. Some of these proposed developments have advanced through the development process and are set to begin construction soon. Among these is the First Baptist Church Redevelopment (corner of Wayne and Fenton), where 220 apartment units and 20,000 square feet of retail will begin construction soon. Across the street (on Bonifant) will be a senior housing development with approximately 110 units. Just south of this area, the Studio Plaza approved major development has applied for the start of phase one, which would bring over 400 apartment units, supportive retail, and a new public plaza. In addition, there are at least four other projects nearby in the approval process.
- To the west, across Georgia Avenue, the plans for the Ripley District are fast becoming a reality. The Solaire Apartments (286 units) recently opened; and the Home Properties development, which will also include retail, is well under construction right across the street.
- On the north side of downtown, the Falklands redevelopment – if built out to its full potential – will bring over 1,000 units plus 60,000 square feet of retail. In its near vicinity, Fenwick Station (at the old post office site) is under construction for 310 units.
- In the core of downtown, right behind the Civic Building, 222 units are nearly finished. This will be the last piece of the puzzle of the original, formal “redevelopment area” for the core of downtown Silver Spring.
Commercial activity continues at a brisk pace in downtown Silver Spring, as demonstrated when an anchor store went bankrupt nationally (Borders), another major anchor was eager to take its place (H&M.) Vacancies in the area are hard to find (except inside CityPlace, which continues to search for the right re-do. Most retail spaces in the area turn around very quickly. Petersons Co., the management/owners of “Downtown” Silver Spring point to their development in Silver Spring as one of their most successful in the region and beyond.
This commercial and retail success at the core of Silver Spring’s downtown is reflected in other areas of downtown as well. Entrepreneurs continue flocking to Silver Spring, opening small shops, and particularly restaurants. The number of restaurants in the broader downtown area continues to increase, with a marked increased presence of ethnic cuisine, particularly Ethiopian. These smaller, mostly independently owned ventures add a healthy, eclectic mix to downtown Silver Spring’s commercial base. They are also an integral part of the growing ‘night-time’ economy that includes a burgeoning live-music scene sparked in part by the opening of the Fillmore Silver Spring, and augmented by the continued success of the American Film Institute and Roundhouse Theatre.
The Silver Spring Civic Building and Veterans Plaza added a new dimension to this arts & entertainment economy in the area. The facility has transformed what it means to be in a public space in Silver Spring. During the wintertime the ice rink brings this urban space alive. During the non-winter months, the space is enjoyed by the community and visitors alike as a gathering place reminiscent of the great urban spaces throughout the world. Veterans Plaza is routinely used for evening events during the week, and on weekends festivals and celebrations bring literally thousands of people to the downtown area. The County’s produced – and regionally renowned - Jazz Festival and Thanksgiving Parade and SilverDocs Documentary Festival (Discovery Communications and the American Film Institute) are now augmented with many other major events throughout the year that see downtown Silver Spring as ‘the place to be and be seen’. Veterans Plaza is also the place where a community focused arts and crafts market happens regularly on Saturdays. This, coupled with the adjacent farmers market makes for a unique, engaging, and welcoming urban environment. The Civic Building has become the ‘go-to’ place for many graduations, fund-raisers, and major civic events as well as private conferences, and celebrations. The facility uses and users truly fulfill the original vision for the space as the community’s living room; captures the essence of the broad diversity of Silver Spring (and Montgomery County); and is a true economic engine for the nearby retail and restaurants.
The success of the residential market and growing arts, entertainment, retail, and restaurant options, lays the framework an active, economically viable downtown Silver Spring that is ready for the rebound in commercial office activity - something that has been lackluster in the recent past due more to the national economic situation than local factors. Not that the area has been stagnant. For example, Radio-One and MedTech have moved into the area, highlighting not only the arts and entertainment opportunities, but the medical and educational opportunities provided by Silver Spring’s premier location. Also, United Therapeutics continues their headquarters expansion, creating not only a growing employment center, but architecturally significant buildings and public works of art.
In the first decade of this century, there was approximately $200 million invested in Silver Spring’s downtown redevelopment by the State of Maryland and Montgomery County. The area was designated an Enterprise Zone; a Parking Lot District was created; the Urban District came into its own; and, an Arts & Entertainment District was created (and recently re-designated.) These incentives and programs were instrumental in creating the Silver Spring of today.
Major public investment continues. The Transit Station is scheduled to open sometime in 2013; a new library will be built within the next three years; and, the Purple Line light rail will add new transit options to the region, with two stations in downtown Silver Spring – and nine in the Silver Spring Regional Area.
In the last few years, the area has seen the maturing of a robust non-profit sector, increased involvement of all sectors of society in community engagement opportunities, and a growing, active and successful Chamber of Commerce. The County government’s commitment to the safety and security of downtown Silver Spring is clearly demonstrated by its increased funding to this critical public function. Additional policing, including bike patrol, is now evident to ensure the area is a public space where all community members and visitors feel welcome and free to enjoy the many civic and commercial offerings. Additionally, the Urban District’s “Red Shirts” continue augmenting this function with their commitment to maintain the area “clean & safe.” In many ways, the public role has shifted from “crowd generating” (i.e.: develop programs and activities to bring people downtown) to “crowd control” (i.e.: managing demand-driven crowds to ensure a pleasant experience.)
Silver Spring has definitively sprung. Now, it is clearly ready to soar.