Colesville pinball museum going to Georgetown

By Jeanette Der Bedrosian
The Gazette
Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Colesville man who owns about 900 pinball machines finally is realizing his dream of opening a museum devoted to the quirky pastime, though the museum will not be in Montgomery County.

David Silverman, 62, is so enthralled by the game that he literally slept beneath two pinball machines while living in a cramped apartment in college. He currently operates the National Pinball Museum out of a small warehouse in his back yard. After repeated attempts to pitch his idea in the county, Silverman has been offered a space in the Shops at Georgetown Park, where his museum will move this summer.

Silverman said he took his plans to Wheaton, pitching a public nonprofit museum that would host historical exhibits, pinball-related films, classes on topics such as woodworking and a rotating selection of pinball games for the public to rediscover the game. Although people in Montgomery seemed excited about the idea, he said, they never took action.

"I went to their meetings," Silverman said of redevelopment meetings in Wheaton. "I appealed to them, and nobody did anything to make it happen. You pursue it, pursue it, pursue it, and then, finally, you just give up."

Rob Klein, who is working on Wheaton's redevelopment as manager of development programs for the county's Department of General Services, said, "It was an opportunity, but there's no money.

"That's the problem," he said. "We would have loved to have something like that to work with, but the county is very short on money, and since [Silverman] came by, things got even shorter."

Even if the budget situation were less grim, Silverman would have needed a strong business plan and proof that his museum would be a strong revenue source in order to obtain grant funding, Klein said. Silverman also tried to shop his museum to a company in Silver Spring, but nothing materialized.

Silverman said he had hoped to stay in the area, where he has an established life with his wife and 22-year-old autistic son and a thriving Japanese landscaping business. Then, four months ago, he received an offer from the Shops at Georgetown Park to house the museum rent-free for two years, an offer he said was made to increase foot traffic in the D.C. mall.

"I thought this would be another great way to bring folks into the mall, and all of our tenants could benefit from this, frankly," said Kathy Arvis, senior specialty leasing manager for the Shops at Georgetown Park.

The terms of the lease are confidential, Arvis said. In two years, the mall will probably be redeveloping, and mall staff will reevaluate the role a pinball museum can play in attracting tourists, she said.

"When someone offers you M and Wisconsin, you don't turn it down," Silverman said of the busy Georgetown streets where the mall is. The changing tourist scene, nearby colleges and view of the C&O Canal make the mall a perfect location to house a smattering of his collection, he said.

Visitors to the 14,000-square-foot location will pay a $13.50 entrance fee for access to the exhibits, library, theater, classroom, restoration room, gift shop and pay-to-play room. The museum will be open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays, beginning in September. The exact opening date has not been set, he said.

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