Downtown Silver Spring, has seen a resurgence in commercial and residential development and now the county wants to add an arena( Photo by Jeffrey MacMillan)

Montgomery County wants to build a 5,000-seat sports and entertainment arena in downtown Silver Spring that would be the largest of its kind in the Maryland suburb.

The facility would be built either atop, or in place of, two county parking garages that straddle Bonifant Street east of the Silver Spring Metro station. The garages, which together have 1,772 spaces, are a prime parking spot for Red Line riders and people who work in downtown Silver Spring, a major job center.

The arena must be designed to serve as “the home of one or more minor league sports teams, with a semi-professional hockey organization as the preferred anchor tenant,” the request says. It also must be able to host high school, amateur and college sporting events, serve as a live entertainment venue, and provide space for exhibits and conventions.

Tina Benjamin, manager of special projects for County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), said the facility would complement the Strathmore arts center and the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, both which are in North Bethesda. She said it’s also needed to accommodate large public events, such as high school graduations, many of which are held at the 3,700-seat DAR Constitution Hall in downtown Washington.

Residents and business owners weigh in on Montgomery County's idea to build a 5,000-seat sports and entertainment arena in downtown Silver Spring. (Video: WUSA9 / Photo: Jeffrey MacMillan)

“It would fill in what we see as a gap,” Benjamin said.

She said it also would draw customers to stores and restaurants in downtown Silver Spring, an area that has seen a commercial and residential resurgence since 2000.

If the winning proposal calls for tearing down the garages, the new building or buildings would have to include underground parking. The number of replacement spaces that would be required would depend on the type and amount of development, officials said. The county asked for proposals to include space for retail and housing.

Al Roshdieh, the county’s transportation director, said both garages are only half-full during peak times, and many people coming to the arena probably would use Metro or the planned light-rail Purple Line, which would have a stop at the Silver Spring Transit Center.

Many arena events would be held in the evenings or on weekends, when parking is usually plentiful, he said.

Even if a developer tears down one or both garages or closes them during construction, downtown Silver Spring has “plenty of parking available,” Roshdieh said.

“People should not be worried about parking,” he said. “It would still be sufficient.”

Sports and entertainment experts have told county officials that Silver Spring is ripe for a semipro hockey team, Benjamin said.

“They say there’s no hockey team between Washington and Hershey [in Pennsylvania], so this would be the perfect market,” she said.

Benjamin said the county had considered a similar facility in 2007 but didn’t find a viable site. She said the Bonifant garages weren’t considered then.

Proposals are due April 10.