County Executive Isiah Leggett’s longtime vision of minor league sports, music and high school graduation ceremonies at a new arena in downtown Silver Spring is headed back to square one, again.
Late last year officials asked developers for proposals to build a 5,000-seat venue on the site of two county-owned parking garages that straddle Bonifant Street, adjacent to the Silver Spring Transit Center. The county said research showed significant demand for a facility to house live entertainment, sports, seminars and graduations.
No one responded by the April 10 deadline.
A preliminary meeting hosted by the county on Feb. 1 drew interest from several major developers, including the Bozzuto Group, StonebridgeCarras and Washington Property Co. Phone messages to the three firms were not returned Wednesday afternoon.
The lack of response from developers was first reported by Montgomery Community Media.
Officials said preliminary feedback from the developers indicated that they backed away because of concerns about the county’s unwillingness to put taxpayer funds into the project. The county offered no cost estimates for the venture, but according to minutes of the Feb. 1 meeting, posted on the county’s department of transportation website, officials told interested companies that zoning and height allowances at the 2.8 acre site provided “sufficient flexibility to elicit complete financing plans without the need for additional county funds.”
The county’s request for proposals required that housing and retail be a part of any arena plan. The project could be built either atop or in place of the two garages, which hold about 1,700 spaces used by Red Line passengers and office workers in Silver Spring. If demolished, the garages would have to be replaced by underground parking.
Leggett said Wednesday that builders were not sure that the housing and retail would be profitable enough to offset the costs of building and operating the arena.
“We’ll go back and talk to them,” he said.
Leggett has worked for most of his decade-plus as county executive to create a multipurpose facility to accommodate community events such as high school graduations. Students and families have been forced to journey to the Constitution Hall in the District or even large churches in Prince George’s County.
For several years Montgomery pursued plans for an 8,000-seat arena resembling what was then known as George Mason University’s Patriot Center (now EagleBank Arena) on land used for parking at the Shady Grove Metro stop. In 2007, The county selected developers William Askinazi and Tom Doyle as private partners, amid discussion of an Arena Football League team for the site.
But the recession slowed progress and the county could not come to a deal with WMATA.