Bethesda’s Apex Building Must Be Demolished by Spring 2017

Owner says existing Regal cinemas will likely relocate within redeveloped property


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The Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. will be demolished to make way for construction of the Bethesda Purple Line station

Aaron Kraut

Bethesda’s Apex Building must be demolished by spring 2017 to make way for a Purple Line station below the property and the developer taking on the complex project must deliver a light-rail tunnel and Capital Crescent Trail tunnel to the Maryland Transit Administration by the end of 2018.

Those requirements were part of the plans laid out in a public meeting Wednesday night by representatives of developer Carr Properties, which recently closed on the office and retail building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. for $105.5 million. The meeting was required by the county Planning Board before the developer applies for final redevelopment approvals.

Carr, in coordination with the county and state and the private concessionaires building the Purple Line, would demolish the existing Apex Building to allow for construction of the station below, said Robert Harris, a Bethesda-based land use attorney who’s representing the developer through the project approval process.

Project architect Robert Sponseller said the development team will be responsible for building what’s essentially the “transit tube” that will house the Bethesda Purple Line station platform and light-rail tracks. Carr also will build a separate Capital Crescent Trail tunnel just south of the station that the state and county must finish building under Wisconsin Avenue to an opening along Elm Street.

When that below-grade construction is finished, Carr expects to build two 250-foot-tall buildings on top of the station. One would be a roughly 350,000-square-foot office tower immediately adjacent to Wisconsin Avenue. The other would include two residential towers that could bring up to 500 units, most of which would be rentals, though some could be for-sale condos.

3D massing diagrams of the project at Wednesday's pre-submission meeting. The small structure shaded in red in the top diagram is the Community Paint and Hardware structure.

Project officials said the buildings could end up being 290 feet tall if the zoning for the property is changed through the ongoing Bethesda Downtown Plan, which is expected to be approved by the County Council late this year. The buildings on top of a major transit hub would become some of the tallest in downtown Bethesda.

“It’s the most opportune site in the metro area for smart growth,” Sponseller said. “If you don’t do it here, where would you do it?”

Both buildings would have ground-floor retail situated around an open plaza on the corner of Elm Street and Wisconsin Avenue with a stairway to the Purple Line station below. A set of six high-speed elevators to the Metro Red Line platform 120 feet below would be built with county funding next to the corner in what today is an Elm Street parking lane.

Wednesday night’s meeting, held in Carr’s 4500 East West Highway office building, also included new details on the rest of the project.

Austen Holderness, managing director of development for Carr, said the Regal Cinemas currently in the Apex Building would be given the opportunity to return to the new building once it’s finished. Carr is planning to provide space for new movie theaters on the same underground level as the Purple Line station but further south on the property.

The Purple Line station platform level plan presented by Carr Properties Wednesday night. The separate Capital Crescent Trail tunnel (CCT) would be built just to the south and the six elevators to the Red Line platform below would be built just to the north.

The Community Paint and Hardware building, a historic protected structure on the southern edge of the property most recently home to a United Bank, remains in Carr’s plans. Holderness said the developer is talking with nearby property owners about potentially moving the two-story structure. For now, the developer’s plan is to build over and around the structure.

Sponseller said the project will include about 800 underground parking spots that would be accessed via garage entrances on Elm Street and Wisconsin Avenue.

One of the major additions to the plan since Carr first presented its concept late last year is a stairway to be built on the western Elm Street edge of the property to connect pedestrians to the Woodmont Plaza area in front of the Bethesda Row Cinema and Mon Ami Gabi restaurant. Today, Elm Street pedestrians must navigate a surface parking lot on the neighboring Federal Realty property to find a stairway that connects to the plaza.

By county law, at least 12.5 percent of the residential units in the project would have to be set aside for moderately priced dwelling units, a county income-restricted affordable housing program.

Harris said he expects the Planning Board to take up the latest application by the end of the year.

With such a complicated process looming for the developer, Holderness seemed reluctant to estimate when the office, retail and residential portions of the project would be completed, putting 2020 as the approximate timeframe for final delivery.

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