In recent years, Montgomery County officials have come a long way in revitalizing downtown Silver Spring. To highlight their success, they want to rename the area "Silver Sprung" -- only informally, of course, as a marketing tool.
The idea is to highlight the area's new charms -- a 20-screen movie theater, restaurants, lots of parking -- to get people to put the "u" in Silver Spring. Get it?
It may be a labored gimmick, but Montgomery officials will gladly stoop to promote the new-and-improved Silver Spring. "It's a goofy line, but I'll say it anyway," said County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), Silver Spring's chief revival agent. "Just like the cicadas that are coming up from the ground, a new community has sprung into life," he said at an unveiling ceremony Tuesday.
A few minutes later, someone turned on the fountain at Silver Plaza -- a restaurant-fringed outdoor area on Ellsworth Drive -- and officials pulled a black cape off a sign depicting a cheerful man leaping into the air holding a white sign with a red letter "u." The image and others like it are designed for display on buses, from light pole banners and in advertisements.
Cris Bombaugh, Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce executive director, said, "This campaign is for all of Silver Spring -- it promotes the new and the established businesses." Other speakers suggested it would be fun for people to find the "u" signs that have been affixed around the area, some of which only subtly convert Silver Spring to Silver Sprung.
Sen. Ida G. Ruben (D-Montgomery) stressed the parking. "Everybody should know that parking is available," she said. "That's the key to success."
A new county-owned parking garage opened this month on Wayne Avenue. The $34 million facility has 1,740 spaces and costs 50 cents an hour during daytime business hours. It is free on evenings and weekends.
Another key -- and the focus of the "u" campaign -- is to get people to reconsider Silver Spring. Now storefronts are boarded up -- not because of bankruptcy -- but because of construction within. "We think this campaign is going to help people dispel any negative impression people may have about Silver Spring from the past," Duncan said.
Duncan said the turning point in the area's fortunes came with decisions by the American Film Institute and Discovery Communications Inc. to settle in Silver Spring. These commitments "really made believers out of people that this was really going to happen," he said. Duncan has been the driving force behind the investment of $400 million in private, county and state money to invigorate Silver Spring.
Earlier this month, the Majestic Cinema 20 opened on Ellsworth Drive, and the neighborhood is filled with "opening soon" and "now hiring" signs in storefronts.
Campaign or no campaign, some people are rethinking Silver Spring.
"I'd never have brought my kids here a couple of years ago," said Leanne McNamee, who came with two friends and a half-dozen little ones who frolicked in the fountain. "It's just become the 'in' place to be."
An area resident, she said hadn't been to downtown Silver Spring in 10 years. "The last time I was here my car was broken into," she said. Lynette Coyne said a visit several years ago was marred by an encounter with a man wielding a knife; now she hopes the redevelopment will boost property values in her Dumont Oaks neighborhood.
Sitting outdoors at a Starbucks, Alfred Gluecksmann read the newspaper as he enjoyed a break Tuesday. A patent agent who lives and works in Silver Spring, he was effusive about the revitalization efforts.
"It's fantastic," he said. "It's the best thing that has happened." He said he patronizes the American Film Institute's Silver Theatre once a week.
Cafe society and fine film are a far cry from what Silver Spring offered a few years ago, he said. "It was impossible to go anywhere at night -- everything was seedy and boarded up."
Now, he added, the area was delivering on the promises offered by revitalization boosters -- that Silver Spring will be a cross between Bethesda and Adams Morgan, "but, in addition, with more culture."