Montgomery County would like to see a new music hall open in this former J.C. Penney department store on Colesville Road.
As music fans across Silver Spring debate what type of new venue would be ideal for the old J.C. Penney building Downtown, County Executive Ike Leggett laid out his own expectations last night at the Silver Spring Regional Services Center in a meeting with myself, Henry from The Scene and Jen from The Penguin.
"My view," says Leggett, an admitted Michael Bolton fan, "is to have a venue and facility that caters to whatever we think is appropriate . . . a variety of music for a variety of tastes."
What is "appropriate" for the former J.C. Penney building on Colesville - once slated to become home to a second branch of Alexandria's Birchmere, a nationally renowned folk venue - has become a contested issue both on- and off-line. Earlier this month, the South Four Corners Neighborhood Assocation forced a Boys and Girls Club to stop hosting go-go shows, citing an increase in noise and crime. Meanwhile, news that national concert promoter Live Nation was a contender for the venue roiled neighborhood listservs.
so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .
County Executive "Ike" Leggett, a former law professor, takes to a whiteboard to explain why the Birchmere wasn't the best fit for a proposed music venue in Downtown Silver Spring.
The community's vision of a "small entertainment and dining experience" - originally promised by the Birchmere - isn't economically feasible for the County, who's subsidizing it, according to Leggett. "I have to justify two million dollars [in funding] to the State," explains Leggett. "If this does not justify economic development, what is the reason to do it?"
In order to be financially sound, the new venue would have to cater to a range of musical tastes. "Sometimes, it may be small and quiet and intimate, or sometimes it might be large," says Leggett. "So you can get the small and intimate, you can get the dinner theatre, or you can get rock or reggae."
"I have no problem with Michael Bolton or Wayne Newton," states Leggett, naming two artists who recently played the Birchmere. "But it doesn't justify the economic investment."
The County has also asked Live Nation and other bidders to provide space for banquets, benefits and community uses. The redevelopment of Indian Spring Country Club, formerly home to many County functions, has resulted in events being held at venues such as Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt.
"We want a community institution," says Leggett. "There are a certain number of dates that will be used for this facility . . . there will be some tension in seeking a proper balance." He compares the venue's programming to that of the County's rec centers, which can be rented for private functions in addition to events offered to the community at large.
Forcing the proposed venue to cater to the County's and the community's whims raised concerns on Silver Spring, Singular last month, but the county executive feels business would not be lost. "I think the market forces will dictate," insists Leggett. "If Michael Bolton came over and said 'we'll only fill it at $100 a night,' but someone else approached the vendor for a [private event], they'll say 'we can do better'."
The goal is to ensure that a publicly-funded facility serves the entire public, according to Leggett. If the venue isn't attracting a wide spectrum of visitors, it won't only be unprofitable - it could mar Downtown's reputation as a place on the mend. "If it's not successful, it erodes the confidence," says Leggett. "Unless you have that element of success, nothing else will happen."