Two Counties Lay Claim to Grant for Music Venue
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Eager to bring a Birchmere Music Hall to downtown Silver Spring, the legislature committed $2 million to the project this year. But Montgomery County is bringing a different club, the Fillmore, to the city. And the Birchmere is going to a new development at the University of Maryland in College Park.
So who gets the money?
Montgomery Executive Isiah Leggett (D) says it belongs to the county, regardless of which company builds the venue. But his immediate predecessor, Douglas M. Duncan, who now works for the university, has a different take.
"I view it as the state keeping its word," Duncan (D) said yesterday in an interview. "Montgomery County has a whole different project now."
Duncan, vice president for administrative affairs, has lined up a powerful ally in his quest to secure the state money. Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr., a Democrat whose district includes part of Prince George's and an enthusiastic booster of U-Md., his alma mater, said the money "is going to be for the Birchmere, and it's going to be located in Prince George's County."
"The money is not going anywhere," he said yesterday after a news conference to announce a tentative deal with Live Nation to build one of its Fillmore clubs at Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue. "That seems pretty outlandish that someone would make that case."
The difference in interpretation sets up a showdown in Annapolis between Montgomery and Prince George's counties. It also puts Duncan in the awkward position of challenging the county he led for 12 years and the funding of a project that is part of his legacy.
The dispute centers on the wording of a line in the state budget. But at the heart of the controversy is fallout from the failed attempt to open a Birchmere in Silver Spring. Duncan spent five years courting the owners of the Alexandria-based music hall. He announced a tentative agreement last year with great fanfare, but it collapsed under Leggett's administration in late July.
"The Birchmere, to me, was the finishing touch on the revitalization of Silver Spring. It was a perfect fit," Duncan said yesterday. "No one was more disappointed than I was."
When negotiations broke down with the Birchmere, Leggett initiated talks with Live Nation, the world's largest producer of live music, for a venue that can accommodate as many as 2,000 people. The $10 million project relies on $4 million each from the state and county. Private investors would supply $2 million.
According to Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget for capital projects, which passed in April, the state will provide a $2 million grant "to the County Executive and County Council of Montgomery County to assist in the design, construction, and capital equipping of a facility for the Birchmere Music Hall in Silver Spring." Another $2 million was expected in the coming budget year.
Leggett raised the issue yesterday in a meeting with O'Malley (D). Afterward, Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield said, "We are wholly unconcerned about the future of the project." O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the governor told Leggett "that he would follow his lead on the important revitalization efforts taking place."
Del. Charles E. Barkley (D-Montgomery), one of the legislators who pressed for the money in the state budget, said the law would probably have to be tweaked to include the name of the county's new partners or exclude the Birchmere's name. But he said there is no question that the money was intended to continue the redevelopment of Silver Spring.
"Doug is in a new venue now," he said. "I understand him asking for it. But if he were county executive right now, I know what he'd be saying."