The Peterson Cos., developers of National Harbor, have purchased a stake in the long-stalled town center project Rock Spring Centre in Bethesda, where they now plan to begin work with partner DRI Development Services later this year.

Rock Spring Centre has long been planned as a new town center on 53 acres at Rockledge Drive and Rock Spring Drive in Bethesda. DRI hung on to the project through legal complexities and the real estate crash before finally earning a plan approval from the county in February of 2011. Construction on the retail and housing portions is now slated to begin this spring with completion in 2014.

In seeking equity investors, Christian J. Spitz of DRI said he wanted a partner that could drive the retail portion of the project and create an identity that would benefit the housing and offices. Peterson will own 90 percent of the retail and entertainment portions and 10 percent of the rest of the $320 million project.

“One of the reasons we picked the Peterson Companies is the track record that they had developing mixed use projects,” Spitz said.

He said shops and restaurants were very interested in the project and were likely to sign on quickly now that the project and its ownership have stabilized. “When we went to the retail market they wanted to make sure that the project was going forward, before they were willing to sign up,” he said.

In all, DRI and Fairfax-based Peterson Cos. plan 210,000 square feet of retail, 550,000 square feet of offices, a hotel, 161 apartments and 90,000 square feet of entertainment space that the developers say will include a movie theater. .

Peterson is the master developer of National Harbor, where Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III said recently he would like to see a $1 billion casino built.

Taylor Chess, senior vice president of retail for Peterson, said that he envision a “high-end lifestyle center” that will be able to stand on its own until the office development market returns.

“The way that DRI designed it, each one of these pieces can act very independently,” Chess said.

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