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County Might Have To Pitch In To Get Optimal Bethesda Purple Line Station

by Aaron Kraut | September 20, 2013 at 6:44 pm | 505 views | 2 Comments

More density won’t be enough to offset the cost of closing the Regal 10 movie theater and demolishing the Apex Building, according to an economic analysis released Friday.

The Montgomery County Planning Department hired D.C.-based Bolan Smart Associates to study the costs of tearing down the building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. The county and the Maryland Transit Administration would like to demolish it before building the planned Bethesda Purple Line station below to allow for a separate Capital Crescent Trail tunnel, more accommodating station design and cheaper entrance to the Red Line platform below.

The economic study found rezoning the property, which Planning Department staff recommends, won’t cover the potential losses for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, the Apex Building owner and a tenant.

The report says $5 million to $10 million of public money could be required to close the gap.

If it agrees to demolish its building, the Pharmacists group could sustain tenant relocation and construction costs of up to $25 million, the study said. Some of that would come from having to close down the Regal 10 movie theater, which opened in 1992 and has an estimated 350,000 annual ticket sales generating $300,000 in annual amusement tax revenue for the county.

The report clearly states that losing the movie theater likely wouldn’t hurt economic activity in downtown Bethesda. But even with a proposed rezoning that would allow a taller, 200-foot high building with more density, the study says the owners would stand to lose money.

The study suggested two options, which could be combined, to make up the difference. One is consolidating development of the new Apex Building with adjoining properties owned by Federal Realty and JBG Cos. Planning staff recommended keeping those sites at current zonings and densities.

The other option would be for Montgomery County or the state of Maryland to kick in.

The study suggests the county could use the approximately $10 million it would save on the Bethesda Metro Station South Entrance project by building it on the Apex Building site instead of across Elm Street.

A replacement tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail could cost $15 million or $30 million if it’s extended all the way to Elm Street Park. According to the Planning staff recommendations, the trail would range from 15- to 16-feet wide and there would be a large bicycle storage and repair area that would come with the station.

The Planning staff recommendation paints an optimistic picture of what the Bethesda Purple Line Station could become:

The Plan vision for the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Elm Street showcases a generous and welcoming plaza at the ground floor of a signature building, where commuters have easy direct access to the Purple Line station and, via high-speed elevators, to the Red Line Metro station below. The spacious Purple Line station would be welcoming and easy to navigate, with a large open platform and plenty of room for the projected ten thousand plus daily riders. Getting to the Red Line station would be efficient and streamlines. One level below the street, cyclists will be able to rapidly move through the CBD to get to work, play, or home, in an environment free of automobiles.

But that’s only if the Apex Building owners agree to demolish the property. The MTA wants to start construction on the Purple Line in 2015. It also wants some degree of understanding as to the future of the Apex Building before the end of the year.

The Pharmacists group hired attorney David Silver, with D.C. firm Holland & Knight, in August to represent it through the process.

The entire process will be fastracked to meet with MTA’s deadline. The staff recommendations and economic analysis will go before the Planning Board on Thursday. A Planning Board public hearing is set for Nov. 7 and the Plan is scheduled to head to the County Council on Dec. 6.

Images via Montgomery County Planning Department

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  • Mary Rivkin

    When does that constant upping of the Purple Line price tag end? Furthermore, it will be a loss to the young people of the community to destroy the Regal theater and its plaza–so many youth find it a welcoming, convenient place. Excellent for parents dropping off and picking up kids too. Planners need to consider all users not only transit riders in this equation.

    • Gfocker

      Agree completely.

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