County approves Fillmore land transfer

Oct. 20, 2008, midnight | By David Tao | 13 years, 7 months ago

Vote paves way for construction of venue

In a 7-2 vote on Oct. 14, the County Council formally approved the transfer of the historic J.C. Penney facade on Colesville Road from current owner Lee Development Group (LDG) to county control. The land will be used to build the Fillmore concert hall, Downtown Silver Spring's first major live performance venue.

Photo: The Fillmore will be located at the site of the former JC Penney. Picture courtesy of Lee Development Group.

The Council's decision allows the county to accept the donation of the historic facade - property that has remained vacant for 18 years - as both a public amenity and public use space on the part of LDG and is the end of the Council's involvement in the Fillmore deal. In exchange for the land, worth about $3.5 million, LDG will not be required to provide additional public use space on the land they own behind the Fillmore.

The transfer was made possible by Zoning Text Amendment 08-15, passed by the County Council on Oct. 7 in a 7-2 vote. The amendment allows developers who donate land for "arts and entertainment use" to satisfy county-mandated requirements for both public amenities and public use space.

In a statement issued after the vote, County Executive Ike Leggett praised the amendments' approval and thanked the Silver Spring business community. "These measures make the opening of the Fillmore music, live entertainment and community use venue a reality," Leggett said.

Once completed, the 500-2,000 seat concert hall will be leased to concert promoter Live Nation Inc., which also manages Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, Va. Business negotiations with Live Nation began after talks broke down with the Alexandria-based Birchmere music hall in July 2007. Leggett and Live Nation signed a letter of intent in Sept. 2007 and reached a lease agreement in mid-January under which Live Nation will pay $90,000 in annual rent. The County Council approved $4 million in county funds in early March 2008, adding to $4 million in state funding and a minimum $2 million contribution from Live Nation. The deal also stated that Live Nation must address any cost overruns on the project and allows the community to use the Fillmore up to 36 times for free or at a discount.

The Fillmore is hailed by proponents as a crucial tool for the revitalization of Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue, areas that have yet to feel the effects of revitalization efforts in the area. "That [area]…has not kept pace with the remainder of Silver Spring," Silver Spring Council member Valerie Ervin said. The Fillmore "will energize the local small businesses up and down Colesville Road."

County officials also praised the deal as a smart financial move for the county. "For a $4 million county investment, we get a $13.5 million facility," spokesperson Patrick Lacefield said.

The plan's opponents, however, say that ZTA 08-15 allows developers to waive their responsibility to provide public use space such as pedestrian walkways by contributing relatively small amounts of land. "The zoning text amendment gave benefits to the developers that were too generous and set a bad precedent," Council member Roger Berliner, who voted against the amendments, said.

Additional criticism was leveled at the negotiations with Live Nation, which critics say did not consider other potentially interested companies. IMP Productions, for example, which owns the 9:30 Club, expressed interest in the proposed music center. "I would have bought the property from [LDG] and made it a competitive bid," Berliner said.

Final negotiations are now taking place between the County Executive's office, LDG and Live Nation. No date has been selected for construction to begin, however, the county does not foresee any potential barriers. "We're full speed ahead," Lacefield said.

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