Then-county executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) initially announced plans to open a 700-seat outpost of the Birchmere, Alexandria’s independent and locally owned dinner theater-style music club. The Maryland state house passed legislation setting aside money for a “Birchmere Music Hall.”
But in 2007, Leggett entered into talks with Live Nation, based in Beverly Hills, Calif., and announced that he had ended talks with the Birchmere owners, saying they were “unable to come to agreement on critical business issues.”
Live Nation, the publicly traded owner of Ticketmaster and the House of Blues chain of concert halls, proposed a much different concept: a 2,000-person club that could draw larger, more commercial acts through multi-venue deals. They labeled it Fillmore, the name of a San Francisco club that the company has also affixed to venues it operates in Charlotte, Denver, Detroit and Miami.
Leggett inked an agreement without seeking competitive bids, and it drew a lawsuit from I.M.P., the Bethesda-based owner of the 9:30 Club in Northwest D.C., which was dismissed for lack of standing.
The state and county pledged a total of $8 million for the project, but after Leggett agreed to foot the bill for cost overruns, taxpayers ultimately put up $11.2 million for the facility. At the groundbreaking, Leggett said the project was “an investment well worth making.”
Little community use
Under the lease agreement, Live Nation pays the county $90,000 annually for the first five years. Among other commitments, the community is “guaranteed a minimum of 36 free and heavily subsidized county and community uses of the facility each year.”
To date, only one of those 72 events has been held, a Rock-in-Schools Concert put on by the county’s public school system and department of recreation in May of 2012.
Other groups say they either cannot afford the fees, couldn’t complete the needed county paperwork in time or had their application rejected by the county.
For instance, Gandhi Brigade, a Silver Spring youth group, said it found the requirements too onerous. A local Girl Scouts troop was given approval to use the space, but backed out after it was unable to raise enough money to host the event. Even Rock-in Schools opted against holding the event there the following year.
Dina Gordon, executive director of the local chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, said she toured the Fillmore in the spring to prepare for a November dinner and fundraiser. “It was available on the dates we were interested in. It’s a beautiful venue, we love it. We thought it would be interesting to have something in downtown Silver Spring,” she said.
First, Gordon said, she was told the cost would be $9,000, an “astronomical” number for an event with a $12,000 budget. She was then told she needed to apply through the county.