Thursday, October 16, 2008

Residents favor Fillmore music votes - Gazette

Council finalizes measures approved last week to prepare Silver Spring property for concert venue

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008

While many Silver Spring residents are pleased with Montgomery County Council votes last week that pave the way for a Fillmore music venue in downtown Silver Spring, some are concerned about the lack of transparency in the planning process.

Getting a music venue at Lee Development Group's site on Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring has taken nearly six years of negotiations with two different companies. But on Oct. 7, the council approved land-use measures that aim to bring the venue downtown by 2011 and finalized those measures Tuesday.

The vote gave the council discretion to review use of land as an amenity within an arts and entertainment district, a responsibility previously held by the county Planning Board. In this case, the land donated by the Lee Group for the Fillmore project would serve as a public amenity before the company develops adjacent land for a separate project. The council's votes also provided at least 15 years in development review protections for donors of spaces, such as the Lee Group, in these types of projects.

The Fillmore deal will involve $8 million in taxpayer funds from state and local levels, $2 million in funds from Los Angeles-based concert promoter Live Nation and $3.5 million of donated land from Lee Group.

"This is something we had previously voiced support for early this year and last year although we did have concerns about the transparency of the process," said Darian Unger Monday at a meeting of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, of which he is the chairman.

Negotiations between the county and the Alexandria, Va.-based Birchmere music hall ended in July 2007, just two months before the deal with Live Nation was initially announced. Music promoter Seth Hurwitz, whose company I.M.P. operates the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., had also lobbied the county and state to open a venue at the site.

The other options would have been more appealing because of their local flavor, said Sean Robinson of the Silver Spring-based Institute for Independent Music, a nonprofit that educates and promotes independent artists on how to book shows and operate their business.

IFI is concerned with "how the whole process went and that it didn't go to Birchmere as originally planned and it just automatically went to Live Nation without other companies getting a chance to bid on the site," Robinson said. "It sounded like I.M.P. had made a better offer for … Silver Spring and it would be better for them to keep a local company in the mix."

Paul Goldman, who has lived in Silver Spring for more than 20 years, said he doesn't agree with the council's vote to allow Lee Group 10 to 15 years to develop around the Fillmore, but he is thankful a project is imminent.

"I'm not all that hung up one way or the other on who the ownership is," Goldman said. "The idea is to make downtown Silver Spring an arts and entertainment hub."

For businesses surrounding the site, the venue should bring greater business and hopefully not greater rent payments, said Marco Fortini, owner of DaMarco's Italia Gourmet located next door to the Fillmore site. Fortini said the restaurant has been at 8662 Colesville Road for nearly 30 years. The Fillmore site, a former J.C. Penney, has been vacant for 18 years.

"This side of [Colesville] hasn't progressed," Fortini said. "They did [the American Film Institute's Silver Theatre] on the other side and now it's time to start on something on this side."

The Fillmore is required to host a minimum of 70 events per year, but Fortini hopes it can reach at least 150 events per year to boost weeknight business at local restaurants. While he acknowledged the Birchmere's daily event schedule would have helped local businesses, Fortini said he never favored either venue during the process.

Residents had complained that the venue would bring added traffic and drunken concert-goers would cause a nuisance late at night. Part of the deal with Live Nation requires the venue be used for civic space and that no event be held after 1 a.m.

As the Fillmore has moved closer to construction, the community has backed off those complaints in favor of enthusiasm for the economic development the venue could bring, said Alan Bowser at Monday's citizens advisory board meeting.

"Minds have been changed since the deal changed," said Bowser, who is also a member of the Silver Spring Arts and Entertainment Advisory Committee. "… We've done a lot to relay the community's feelings about the project [to county officials and Live Nation]."

Citizens advisory board member Kathryn Stevens said she hopes Live Nation will continue that relationship with residents.

"All things considered, I was excited to see the Birchmere, a local place, but it's important to see an entertainment venue of any kind," she said, "as long as they involve the community from day one."

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