Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Officials say goodbye to turf, hello to civic center - Gazette

by Matthew Smith | Special to The Gazette | Wednesday, July 30, 2008

County officials on Friday held a ‘‘farewell” party to downtown Silver Spring’s artificial turf in order to tout the new $19.7 million civic center that will be built on its site beginning in September.

The event, which featured party music, vendors and demonstrations, took place at the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive where artificial turf was installed several years ago as a temporary measure while talks and funding for the civic center were finalized.

In the meantime, many residents grew fond of the turf, noting that it served as open space and a gathering place. They lobbied the county to include a grassy area in the civic center’s design, but county officials said grass would not be practical. The public space that the civic center would provide would make up for the lack of green space, and green space could be provided elsewhere in the downtown, officials said.

The Montgomery County Planning Board agreed and approved plans in 2007 for the center, which will include an ice rink, pavilion and a plaza honoring military veterans.

Gary Stith, the director of the Silver Spring Regional Center, which is operated by Montgomery County government, said the project will be great for the community.

‘‘A lot of people don’t understand that the open space isn’t going to go,” he said. ‘‘It’s going to be different. It’s a different kind of project.”

County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring told onlookers on Friday that the space will serve a variety of uses and was modeled after Italian piazzas.

Ervin added that the civic center will be a new symbol of Silver Spring.

‘‘This is not just a destination for us but everyone in our community, our iconic Silver Spring,” she said.

The civic center has been planned since 1998 when the Silver Spring Armory was demolished to make way for a portion of the redeveloped downtown area. Events such as the Silver Spring Jazz Festival have been held in the open space, and Stith said opportunities exist to hold similar events at the civic center in the future.

While many residents on hand for the event were looking forward to the civic center, some said they liked the open space provided by the artificial turf.

‘‘I’m sad to see the turf go,” said Ana Lopez, executive director of the Community Bridges program that helps disadvantaged girls. ‘‘There are healthy opportunities here, and I’m worried that the construction is going to limit that.”

Ellen Figueron of Silver Spring said she was disappointed to see the field go, which she said was better for children. ‘‘It’s really a nice place, a lot of people can come out,” she said. ‘‘It’s a really safe place. It’s a bad idea [to take this space away]. I come here every day.”

But Aaron Chassy of Takoma Park said the county should ‘‘turn this into the open public space. I don’t like the fake green Astroturf. ... It would be nice to see some real green space.

‘‘If the [new] civic center can achieve a better sense of community, I’m all for it,” he said.

Monica Buitrago of IMPACT Silver Spring, an organization that works to empower minorities in civic affairs, said the new center could really augment Silver Spring’s already diverse community. ‘‘I love the way that the new civic center brings the community together and the ice rink and concert hall will keep the spirit new,” she said. ‘‘People can bring their kids and teenagers to hang out here and feel the same spirit. I’m all for it.”

Alan Bowser, a civic activist who is also president of the Silver Spring Town Center, an organization which will create programming for the civic building, noted that the veterans memorial, dedicated to all county military, is an important component of the project.

‘‘We’ve listened to what the community wants,” Ervin said. ‘‘This is perfectly suited for what we’ve been doing but better. I couldn’t be more excited than I am now.”

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