The Hecht Co.'s department store in downtown Silver Spring has been sold to a Fairfax County developer who plans to turn the 40-year-old building and some adjoining property into a 300,000-square- foot enclosed retail mall of specialty stores, restaurants and theaters.

Petrie, Dierman and Partners Inc., a McLean-based development firm, submitted plans last week to the Montgomery County Planning Board for an estimated $70 million to $100 million redevelopment, the first major retail proposal for Silver Spring in 40 years.

Attracting stores and other businesses to Silver Spring is seen as the key to renewing the aging suburban downtown, currently undergoing a construction boom of office space. Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer has made Silver Spring's revitalization a priority of his administration, pumping in millions of dollars for public improvements such as parking.

The planned move by the Silver Spring Hecht to a new store in Wheaton Plaza has concerned county officials, who envision Silver Spring's evolving into a vital area of businesses and shopping and not a barren landscape of offices that is deserted after 5 p.m.

Walter H. Petrie, president of the McLean development company specializing in shopping centers, said its "City Place" would be an urban marketplace for shopping, dining and entertainment.

The plan, Petrie explained, calls for retaining but remodeling the five-story Hecht building at the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive but demolishing the structures between there and Colesville Road. The resulting mall, Petrie said, would contain 60 shops running the gamut of specialties, from record stores to women's apparel, as well as a fast-food court, a health club and a theater complex.

The proposal, a joint venture with Georgelas and Sons Inc., of McLean, also calls for a high-rise tower, to be constructed later and to house either hotel rooms or office space.

Developer Lloyd Moore has proposed another retail development for downtown Silver Spring that would include a $250 million complex of offices, hotels and stores. Moore has not submitted formal plans, but some civic groups have protested that his project is so large it would result in massive traffic and other neighborhood problems. Others object to Moore's plan to demolish some Art Deco style buildings.

Petrie said that the two projects would complement each other. He said, however, that his project would be able to proceed and support itself no matter what happens to Moore's.

The County Council has deferred all major decisions on Silver Spring until September.

Both Petrie and Chuck Lapine, a partner in the firm, emphasized that even though Hecht might have experienced sales problems in Silver Spring, it was the tremondous market opportunity of the area that attracted their interest.

"Within six miles of this site, there are 700,000 people that may not mean much to you. But you have to realize that there are not 20 cities in the United States of that size," Lapine said. Petrie said the relatively affluent population of Montgomery County, "people who earn $65,000 to $70,000 a year, is attractive" to retailers.

Silver Spring's problem, Petrie said, has been that its stores were scattered. Its style of merchandising also has been outdated, he said, explaining that the mall being proposed is an effort "to build a better mousetrap."

For example, Petrie and Lapine said that their proposal doesn't contain the traditional anchor department store. Instead, it calls for so-called mini-anchors of well-known specialty stores that offer what a shopper wants.

Lapine explained that the typical shopper used to be a woman who stayed home and who could spend several hours in the afternoon perusing a department store or a mall. "Sixty-five percent of the women in Washington now work," he said, "and they don't have time for that. When they set out {to shop}, they want to spend the least amount of time getting it."

Petrie said they hope to break ground on the project next spring and open the mall 18 to 24 months later. He admitted, though, that several hurdles must be cleared, in addition to passing the intricate planning and approval process required by Montgomery County.

The firm is seeking to develop the land through a county policy that would allow for double the amount of density in return for certain amenities, such as public park space or streetscapes.

Rigorous negotiations between the planning staff and the developer generally mark this process.

The Planning Board must also decide whether the plan overburdens current facilities and whether it is compatible with historic preservation. The Hecht building -- a windowless, limestone structure -- has been given historical status by the county, which could interfere with the firm's plans to remodel it.

Petrie stressed however that the planned remodeling is in the Art Deco style that marks historic buildings in Silver Spring.