Sunday, April 22, 2007

can downtown silver spring stay relevant?

ALSO IN THE NEWS: A sneak peek at the new Birchmere; Washington Adventist may be moving to Calverton; NPR wants to relocate to Silver Spring [from the Penguin].

ABOVE: National Harbor, a mini-city on the Potomac in Prince George's County, is set to open next year. The Peterson Companies, its developer, also built Downtown Silver Spring.

When it opened in 2004, the Downtown Silver Spring complex was heralded as the savior of the Downcounty, and two of the region's biggest developers - Foulger-Pratt and The Peterson Companies - earned bragging rights for sparking an urban renaissance. But now that the fanfare has passed and the "Silver SprUng" signs have been taken down, F-P and Peterson have both moved on to bigger and better things. How will Silver Spring compare to this new generation of suburban downtowns? And will it remain true that you can't "build a city in a day"?

"We're not looking to redo Silver Spring over again," said Bryant Foulger of Foulger-Pratt at a presentation for the East Campus redevelopment, covered by Rethink College Park, where the first visuals of the College Park project were revealed.

East Campus will have a similar amount of retail as Downtown Silver Spring does now, but this adds a crucial component - on-site housing, including over 2000 apartments in the project. While conceptual drawings of the project (at right) look strikingly familiar (mosaic tiled fountain, anyone?) it seems like Foulger-Pratt might want to distance itself from Silver Spring given the harsh criticism people both in and out of the planning community have given it. (I'm not suggesting that thosse bloggers are to blame, but any developer should be aware of public opinion on his/her work.)

Milton Peterson's hand in redeveloping Downtown Silver Spring, perhaps his most visible and influential project in Maryland (even greater than Washingtonian Center, I'd argue) is given only a cursory mention in this Post profile of his plans for National Harbor, the mini-city on the Potomac in Oxon Hill that has nearby Alexandria fearing for its life.

Silver Spring cannot begin to compare to the size of National Harbor, however; the multi-billion-dollar project will include thousands of homes and millions of square feet of shops and offices, along with one of the largest convention hotels in the country. Peterson has Disney Imagineers advising on public artwork, and has even bought "The Awakening" sculpture (at left) and plans to move it from Hains Point to the site. With all of the glitter and hoopla surrounding this project, does Peterson even need to hold up Silver Spring as a tiny example of what National Harbor coudl be like?

While developments like Downtown Silver Spring have changed the way we look at and build communities in Greater Washington, it's apparent that these early "urban villages" may only become footnotes in a greater history. Perhaps, then, some of the criticism launched at Downtown Silver Spring and its "pre-fabricated" appearance may be valid, so long as developers continue to build larger and larger monuments to their imagination.

If it ensures that future developments are of a higher quality, then I say we should dissect Downtown Silver Spring as much as possible, throwing out the things that don't work and building on the things that do work. Any of us who've hung around the corner of Fenton and Ellsworth long enough to see it change know that there's a lot of good we can improve on.


David said...

Great post Dan. Actually the developer predicted east campus would be about twice as big as Downtown Silver Spring in terms of GSP with 4000 units. They also noted that those pictures are extremely preliminary and that they were thrown together in about a month (the fountain was directly inspired by the one in Silver Spring). The facades and the site plan will look nothing like what is in those pictures.

Richard Layman said...

For a paper I am writing for class I have been reading DC's new comprehensive plan a lot more closely than I did last summer. Even though it's DC and not MontCo, you might enjoy reading the Urban Design element. It would give you a quick education about the broad principles.,a,1282,q,607547,planningNav,%7C32341%7C.asp

Anonymous said...

Looks a lot like Downtown Silver Spring.

Silver Springer said...

But Dan, haven’t we learned from downtown Silver Spring that residential is not critical and that office development will lead to a sustainable higher quality way of life in the long term?

There are over 6,625 residential units planned, completed and under construction by individual developers in downtown Silver Spring alone, that’s more than enough. I would actually advise against any more in Downtown project.

We’ve all seen what the over concentration of residential does to a community in the long run, just look at what College Park is today, Springhill Lake, Montgomery Village, I could go on. Only truly wealthy areas like Potomac are able to sustain well maintained, relatively crime free neighborhoods.

I am glad Downtown Silver Spring didn’t incorporate such a large residential component; this may not bode well for College Park years down the road. Silver Spring is not looking to become a bedroom community.

To add to the above, I don’t think Downtown Silver Spring, is anywhere on National Harbor’s hit list. The Downtown was always meant to serve the neighborhood. Those that should be fearful of National Harbor are Old Town Alexandria, Tysons Corner, Pentagon, and D.C.

The Downtown Silver Spring project has paved the way for projects like National Harbor because of its great success it has made these other projects feasible. The East Campus development looks strikingly similar to Downtown Silver Spring but even from the rendering I prefer the architecture and layout of Ellsworth drive.

Dan Reed said...

What I was really trying to get at is if Downtown Silver Spring will remain relevant as a planned town center, and an example to other communities throughout the region and the nation. Will F-P and Peterson be remembered for Silver Spring, and vice versa - or will we just be considered a baby National Harbor?

It's not that Nat'l Harbor and East Campus are a threat to Silver Spring (though East Campus and University Town Center will snag the College Park kids who frequent Silver Spring now) but both projects will have a huge effect on where the region shops and hangs out, even reaching Downtown Silver Spring.

And, as for the residential component - if you look at just the DTSS complex, it's widely considered a failure that more housing wasn't built there. It was a risky proposal ten years ago, but if F-P were to do it again (which they are in College Park), there would be more housing in that complex.

Silver Springer said...

Dan, if the 222 units that make up the Ellsworth Condos haven’t broken ground yet what makes you think that we need more residential in Silver Spring?

PFA could have easily added more residential to the Ellsworth or placed it on top of the Town Square and Wayne Ave garages, they could have even placed more residential on top of the roof area where the clock is.

They didn’t do it because there’s no market for it. The only thing they’re kicking themselves for is reducing the office building from 11 stories to 9.

Data shows the project has been highly successful. How can it be a failure when it’s been noted that we have the most used Whole Foods in the country and the Majestic is number one in Consolidated’s chain. We still have the historic Silver theatre and shopping center plus AFI’s East coast headquarters. There’s nothing historic on East campus or National Harbor, there’s no AFI either.

I’m not worried about Silver Spring; we are a pedestrian friendly urban area light years ahead College Park. Residential is dime a dozen but we have a consortium of companies that keep this place on a higher level. When College Park and National Harbor snatch several private firms worth billions of dollars then call me. I wish them the best though because Prince George’s really needs it. Hopefully they can snatch some large companies outside the state.

All in all for the most part, to me, wherever economic development happens in the Maryland is good for the Maryland.

David said...

Actually I spoke with folks from the FP-Argo team that built Silver Spring and they explicitly said if they were to build that project today it would have condos and they would have buried the movie theater. There was not market for above retail condos ten years ago. Today it's a whole different story.

Silver Springer said...

The market for residential is pretty much dead today. I've talked to Bryant Foulger in person and he said he's delaying the residential component at the transit center and wish he could build more office space instead (although I'm not sure what's stopping him is really valid).

I'll take the movie theater and office space over residential development any day of the week.

In fact the theater is a striking architectural component that adds flavor to the project. So it worked out for the best.

College Park should aim for being more than a bedroom community.