Could Bethesda’s Apex Building Be Razed Before Purple Line Construction Starts?

Attorney for building owner said a ‘prospective developer’ is still in the mix even after the county declined to provide an incentive package to redevelop


The Apex Building in Bethesda

Aaron Kraut

The Apex Building that sits on top of the planned Bethesda Purple Line station could still be razed and redeveloped, though it’s unclear if the “optimal” station design county officials have long hoped for is still possible.

Bill Kominers, the attorney representing building owner the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), said at a Planning Board work session Thursday that his client was still working with a “prospective developer” to redevelop the site.

Kominers said in order to make the redevelopment financially feasible, ASHP needed the maximum height of the new building to be set at 290 feet. He also said the ASHP and the unnamed prospective developer need the historic Community Paint and Hardware building next door to be moved.

“The site is very constrained,” said Kominers, who told the Planning Board that the new Purple Line station entrance set for the corner of Elm Street and Wisconsin Avenue means there’s no room on that side of the site for a loading area or garage entrance.

Kominers said the ASHP doesn’t intend to tell the Planning Board where the historic building should go but that, “All we’re saying is you make a recommendation for its removal from the site.”

The Planning Board agreed to consider language in the Bethesda Downtown Plan, the master plan for the area, that could lead to the historic building being moved for the second time.

It was moved about 50 feet in 1988 to make way for the Apex Building, the office building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. that the ASHP owns and where it’s headquartered.

In February 2014, the county council approved a “minor master plan amendment” to allow more density and building height for the site in an attempt to incentivize the ASHP to redevelop before the Purple Line comes.

If the building, which is also home to a Regal multi-screen movie theater and the popular restaurant Food Wine & Co., remains during Purple Line construction, state and county officials have said construction crews can’t build a new tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail.

The light-rail will be built in the existing tunnel, which once was home to a railroad.

Without a second tunnel for the trail, users now accustomed to crossing Wisconsin Avenue under the road would have to cross at street level.

In September 2014, the county council agreed with County Executive Ike Leggett not to support an incentive package for ASHP. Council members agreed with Leggett that the package was too expensive.

The incentives were proposed as a way to convince the ASHP to partner with a developer to raze the building and allow for the construction of a bigger Purple Line station below.

While details of the deal were confidential because they were discussed in a closed session, a report at the time pegged the cost to the county of the entire request at $70 million. That cost likely included the price of building the second tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue.

The “optimal” Purple Line station design also would have included an elevator connection to Metro’s Red Line on the same side of Elm Street as the Purple Line station and provided for a more spacious platform area.

The state is expected to select a winning team of private contractors to design, build and operate the light-rail system early next year. With construction of the 16-mile light-rail system set to start sometime next year, it’s unclear if the Apex Building could be torn down in time for construction of the Bethesda station.

Kominers didn’t return a request for further comment.

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