Construction is scheduled to begin this month on the first major commercial office building spurred by the opening four years ago of a Metrorail station in central Silver Spring.
The new building--a project of L.W. Moore Development Co. of Silver Spring--at Wayne and Dixon avenues is one of five planned for the business district that will, over the next three years, increase office space in that area by more than one third. There is currently about 3 million square feet of office space in downtown Silver Spring.
Ground will soon be broken for Moore's 12-story, $8.5 million building on the site of a parking lot formerly owned by the nearby Warner E. Pumphrey Funeral Home. In early spring, for their first project in the Washington area, the Five Seasons partnership of Bethesda will begin work on the Silver Spring Business Center on a lot adjacent to the Sheraton Inn at Colesville Road and Spring Street. The 10-story building is expected to cost $12 million to $14 million. Five Seasons has completed commerical and residential development in Latin America.
A Canadian company will begin the largest of the new downtown projects--the $75 million Metro Plaza complex of 10- and 16-story buildings separated by a shopping mall--this summer at Colesville Road and Second Avenue, site of a former Metro parking lot and Thomas W. Perry Inc. lumberyard next to the Metro station.
Another project proposed for the area is a seven-story office building next to the Georgian Towers apartment complex at Georgia Avenue and Spring Street. The Gateway Center project, if approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board, would replace a Suburban Bank drive-in branch; construction would begin in about a year.
A fifth office building for Silver Spring, yet to be formally proposed, is planned by Oliver T. Carr Co. for a site at Colesville Road and East-West Highway, adjacent to the Metro station, that is now occupied by the Handley Ford dealership. Construction of the 14-story building, which would include retail space, may begin in mid-1983.
David Richards, Carr's project manager for the development, said Carr is considering further construction, including office and residential buildings and a hotel, on the 6 1/2 acres occupied by the Ford dealership and Silver Spring Toyota. Carr has agreed to buy 1 1/4 acres for its first project and has an option covering all or part of the remaining land, he said.
Most of the developers said they were drawn to downtown Silver Spring by the Metro station, and they anticipate that its proximity will be a major factor in attracting tenants. Already, more than half of the Silver Spring Business Center has been preleased, said a spokesman for the developer.
Firms cramped in downtown District offices might open a branch office in Silver Spring to take advantage of the subway link to the downtown and the suburban community's cheaper rents, said Charles Hall of Ward/Hall Associates in Springfield, architects for the Wayne Avenue building.
Rents in some new office buildings in the District have been set at $30 to $35 a square foot, while in Silver Spring they are about $20, the developers said.
Metro will play a much smaller role in the leasing of Gateway Center, and instead, the building's Georgia Avenue location and location and closeness to the Beltway will be key selling points, predicted Silver Spring lawyer Charles Dalrymple, one of several local investors in the project's developer, Gateway Associates.
Beverly Williams, marketing director of the L.W. Moore Development Co. in Silver Spring, said he sees no problems in leasing the Wayne Avenue building because it is to be completed in January 1983--months before the other buildings.
"We feel that Silver Spring, which hasn't had that much activity recently because of Montgomery County's sewer moratorium, is in a position to grow," Richards said. "So we see an opportunity in growth of office space."
He acknowledged that undertaking new development in Silver Spring has its risks: "It doesn't have a track record because it hasn't had a chance to develop," he said. As a result, Richards said, Carr plans to monitor the leasing of the other office buildings to help predict its own success.
John T. O'Neill, executive vice president of the local Apartment and Office Building Association, said uncertainty over future construction in the Washington area makes it difficult to predict the demand for office space when the Silver Spring projects open.
"If everybody cranks up what's on the drawing board, the Silver Spring developments could be in trouble," he said. "If everybody puts off building for six months or a year, they'll be hip deep in clover."
Officials of the Toronto-based Caruscan Corp., developer of Metro Plaza, say they are reassured by the new building boom in downtown Silver Spring. "We're pleased to see the other developments because it confirms our assessment" of the area's growth, said Erkki Pukonen, the firm's project director.
Metro Plaza will be Caruscan's first office building project in the Washington area.
Of the five developments, Gateway Center has attracted the most controversy within Silver Spring, said John Carter of the Montgomery planning board's staff. Some Georgian Tower residents object that the building will be too close to their apartments and will block their view of a park across Second Avenue, he said.
In an attempt to calm the fears of tenants, Gateway Center will be stepped away from Georgian Towers, with terraces, landscaping and mirrored glass used to give an illusion of distance, said Wayne Smith of Donald N. Coupard and Associates in Rockville, architects for Gateway Center and Metro Plaza.
At ground level, Georgian Towers and Gateway Center will be 23 feet apart, with the distance rising to 68 feet at the seventh floor, he said. CAPTION: Picture 1, Wayne and Dixon avenues in central Silver Spring is about to have Matrorail-related development. Funeral home parking lot in foreground is slated for office building. By Douglas Chevalier -- The Washington Post; Map, no caption, By Dave Cook -- The Washington Post; Picture 2, The T.W. Moore Development Co. plans to break ground soon for this $8.5 million building at 1100 Wayne Ave. in Central Silver Spring.