Discovery Communications officially opened its gleaming new corporate headquarters in downtown Silver Spring yesterday, inaugurating what officials hope will be a civic and economic revival for the community.
To move its 1,500 employees from Bethesda, Discovery invested $165 million on design and construction of the striking, 10-story steel-and-glass complex, accented with hand-hewn Jerusalem limestone. In doing so, company executives said, they also placed a bet on the future of the suburb's long-moribund downtown.
"We knew there were risks involved in coming to Silver Spring. But we all felt that our presence could spur growth and renewal," said John S. Hendricks, chairman and founder of the company, which in addition to the Discovery Channel owns Animal Planet, the Travel Channel and several other cable outlets.
Discovery also benefited from a menu of tax breaks and other financial incentives to make the move. It now occupies the corner of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, the site of the old Tastee Diner, directly between the Silver Spring Metro station and the historic Silver Theatre, which will reopen this month under the stewardship of the American Film Institute.
A 13-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex named Stan peers out from the street-level window of the building's lobby, and a 170-foot ceramic mural lines the building's north wall. At night, part of the complex is awash in a rainbow pattern of lights.
More than just its commanding physical presence, the Discovery headquarters delivers a psychic boost to the neighborhood, according to the politicians who attended yesterday's opening ceremony.
"It sends out the unmistakable signal that something exciting is taking place here," said County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who has been one of the project's biggest boosters.
The din of construction still resonates in the area, as crews in hard hats work on a nearby 20-screen movie theater and an array of shops and restaurants, due to be completed next year. Five years ago, when county officials learned that Discovery was contemplating a move, they urged Hendricks to consider Silver Spring. Hendricks said the notion that his company could play a major part in remaking the struggling urban center was instantly appealing.
Sen. Ida G. Ruben (D-Montgomery) said she took a calculated political risk by drafting legislation that provided tax incentives to Discovery in exchange for building the new office.
"The old adage, 'You've got to spend money to make money,' applied here," Ruben said. "I think standing here today, it's obvious we made a wise investment."
Since last month, when the company started moving its employees into the building in shifts, there has been evidence that the company's presence is having an immediate impact on the local economy.
Downtown restaurants that once hungered for lunchtime patrons have been jammed. And shop owners who have long struggled say they are seeing signs of revival.
"For the first time, it really feels like Silver Spring is coming back," said Sonia Danshes, whose husband opened the Silver Spring Men's Store in 1972, a block from the Discovery property. "We can see the difference. Now, we have reason to hope."