|The Solaire, which opened to tenants in May.
In May, residents started moving into the Solaire, located at 1150 Ripley Street. I previously wrote about the building's nine live-work units, which allow residents to operate businesses out of their apartments. Montgomery County officials were so nervous about kickstarting the redevelopment of the Ripley District that they gave developer Washington Property Company $5 million in public money to help cover the costs of the 17-story high-rise, but today it's 25 percent leased.
Across the street is Eleven55 Ripley, a mixed-use complex containing apartments, rowhouses, and retail space. Construction began in December and the building should open in late 2013, according to its developer, Home Properties.
Together, the two buildings will deliver over 600 apartments, several new shops and businesses, and a pair of pocket parks to the Ripley District. And to support them, the county has extended two streets, which will eventually connect the neighborhood to the rest of downtown Silver Spring.
Last month, I stopped by the Ripley District to check out its progress. So far, things are looking good.
|The newly rebuilt Ripley Street. Eleven55 Ripley is on the left, while the Solaire is on the right.
|The new segment of Dixon Avenue, which currently dead-ends at a parking garage.
The new street will run through the Eleven55 Ripley project, with apartments and rowhouses on the left side and a a mid-rise apartment building with ground-floor shops on the right. While it's nice to see more retail in this neighborhood, it will be largely invisible from Georgia Avenue and partially hidden by the parking garage, which will make drawing customers a challenge.
|Sidewalk in front of the Solaire.
|A "live-work" apartment.
Together, Eleven55 and the Solaire should create a pretty nice street; though the buildings are among downtown Silver Spring's tallest, both will have front doors and stoops on both sides, giving the block a more residential, human-scaled feel. They'll also provide more "eyes on the street," making the area livelier and safer.
|A preview of what Eleven55 will look like when completed.
Now we know the upper floors of the building will have a sort of sandy-colored brick veneer, while the lower floors will probably use a darker-colored brick. The stripe pattern appears to be arbitrary and I'm not sure what purpose it serves, but it won't be noticeable from the street anyway.
|A Red Line train passes the pocket park.
A bigger issue, however, is how well-used the space will be. Many pocket parks in downtown Silver Spring are so badly designed they're useless, but this park, along with another one being built at Eleven55 Ripley, appear to be both attractive and functional. It will also be adjacent to the Capital Crescent Trail when it's eventually extended to Silver Spring, so bikers and joggers might one day stop here to rest.
Open space is important in an urban district, but perhaps it would've been better if property owners could contribute land or funding to create one big park rather than a bunch of little ones. Pocket parks are great for sitting and eating your lunch, but they don't lend themselves to much else. There are some bigger parks with playgrounds and playing fields in the neighborhoods around downtown Silver Spring, but there are probably enough apartments being built downtown over the next few years to demand a park of their own.
Overall, the two new apartment buildings going up on Ripley Street should be a great addition to downtown Silver Spring. As I've written before, Silver Spring has been held back by buildings that are either unattractive or hostile to the pedestrian experience. Hopefully, the Ripley District will set the bar high for future development.
Check out this slideshow of the Ripley District under construction.