ASHP Senior Vice President and COO David R. Witmer said the group, which owns the building and has offices in it, is working with the county’s Planning Department and Department of Economic Development.
In a press release on Tuesday, Witmer said the professional organization realizes the benefits a preferred Purple Line station would provide.
County and Purple Line planners say razing the Apex building before building the station below would allow for the county to build a Metro elevator connection on the same side of Elm Street and a separate biker tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue. It would also allow the state or private concessionaire to build a less cramped station platform.
But an economic study commissioned by the Planning Department found giving the ASHP more density in exchange for razing the building likely wouldn’t be enough to offset financial losses. The building is home to a number of successful, long-term tenants, including the Regal 10 movie theater, which opened in 1992 and has an estimated 350,000 annual ticket sales.
“While we were only recently approached by the County with the proposed plan to demolish the Apex Building to accommodate a revised plan for the future Purple Line station, we took immediate steps to assess the situation and begin the process of evaluating options,” Witmer said. “This is obviously a big decision that requires a thorough and detailed analysis to determine if selling the building and moving to a new location is in the best interest of our members.”
The ASHP has about 40,000 members and has owned the 7272 Wisconsin Ave. building for more than 20 years. The press release alludes to the group’s 200 employees at the building and the events it hosts in Bethesda that contribute to the “vibrancy and economic success of the area.”
The Planning Department’s outside economic analysis says $5 million to $10 million of public money could be required to entice the group to sell or redevelop the building.
“We care a great deal about Bethesda and the County and are willing to entertain an agreement provided that it benefits all parties,” Witmer said. “We have a legal duty to our members and Board of Directors to conduct a thorough analysis of how the sale of the building and relocation of our operations would impact this organization. This is a complex and dynamic situation involving many players and it takes a certain amount of time, even at an expedited schedule, to research, review, and assess.”
Witmer indicated the ASHP had only been made aware of the plan a few weeks ago. Planning Department officials reported difficulty getting in touch with the building owner back in June.
There also appeared to be some confusion as to who actually owned the building. At the June hearing, Maryland Transit Administration Purple Line manager Mike Madden said the owners use the building as part of a retirement fund.
ASHP hired an attorney in early August to represent it in discussions with the county.
“We have been monitoring the County’s plans for the Purple Line for years, and have no objection to its construction,” explained Witmer. “Up until just a few weeks ago, the County’s plan was to construct the station below our building with no demolition, so this new plan requiring that ASHP decide by December 2013 whether or not to permit demolition of the Apex Building in less than two years is clearly a big change and ASHP needs adequate time to conduct the necessary due diligence.”
At a September hearing, Planning Board Commissioner Casey Anderson brought up the prospect of condemning the building. The County Council would have to approve any action on the fate of Apex, in a Mini Master Plan the Planning Department has labeled the Bethesda Purple Line Station.