Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Demolition starts at old magic shop site

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Work to make the old Barry's Magic Shop disappear started last week, as demolition crews began tearing down the Georgia Avenue building for a long-planned pedestrian walkway.

The walkway will occupy the shop's old site at 11234 Georgia Ave. in Wheaton and will provide a pedestrian connection with the shopping strip on Georgia and the shops surrounding Parking Lot 13 on Triangle Lane.

In April 2007, after nearly a year of negotiations, the owner of Barry's Magic Shop reached a $260,000 deal with County Executive Isiah Leggett's (D) office to relocate and make room for the walkway. The shop is now located on Nicholson Lane in Rockville.

"I went by there the other day and took a few pictures in front of the store," said Barry Taylor, owner of the shop, which had been in Wheaton for 32 years. "I had a big magic wand and I was waving it like the store would disappear.

"It's nostalgic, the times you have spent there and the people that come in."

Demolition should be finished by the end of August and the site should be ready for construction of the walkway by the end of September, said Sharon Lasswell, manager of economic development and relocation programs at the Mid-County Regional Services Center.

Lasswell said the final design for the walkway still needs to be approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board. Approval could come in mid-October and if all goes as planned, the walkway could be finished as soon as May 2009. Plans for the walkway had been discussed since 1994, and the county paid $987,000 to acquire the building in 2006.

"The walkway opens up the downtown so you've got a lot more connectivity and people can utilize those businesses [on Georgia Avenue and Triangle Lane] more," Lasswell said.

The cost to demolish the magic shop and prepare the site for construction is about $355,000. That part of the project is being paid through the county's Capital Improvement Program. Construction costs cannot be determined until the job goes out to bid, said Rob Klein, director of the Wheaton Redevelopment Program. Lasswell said the costs of demolition are higher than anticipated because the work is being done by hand to limit the impact on neighboring businesses.

On Aug. 14, a day after demolition started, construction workers had taken down most of the rear of the building and were working to demolish the roof and second floor.

Demolition had been delayed in June when active utility lines were found beneath the site. That discovery postponed the building and demolition permits needed for the project, Lasswell said.

Three designs for the walkway were presented in a public meeting in February, where residents, police and businesses gave input on the best design. Ultimately, one design was selected for its aesthetic value and handicap accessibility.

The final design by the Baltimore-based JMT Engineering, the contractor for the project, will include trees planted amid the 4,170-square-foot lot and a handicap ramp running from Triangle Lane to Georgia Avenue.

Klein said plans for a painting or mural within the walkway are also being discussed as a way to capitalize on Wheaton's arts and entertainment designation.

"Art is part of redevelopment," Klein said. "It's not applied as much as we like because we don't have as much activity. But that's what we are looking for."

Lasswell said the ultimate goal of the walkway is to allow better pedestrian access to the shops surrounding the site. Currently, pedestrians must use Reedie Drive or Price Avenue to get from Triangle Lane to Georgia Avenue. She also said because the magic shop had been built so long ago, it was situated closer to Georgia than its neighboring businesses, which limited visibility of those stores.

The walkway will connect Triangle Lane with the sidewalk on Georgia about halfway between Reedie Drive and University Boulevard. Klein said a barrier would be put up on the sidewalk to prevent people crossing Georgia Avenue mid-block.

Filippo Leo, who owns Marchone's Italian Deli just a few doors down from the rear of the demolition site, said he in unsure whether the walkway will make his business easier to access.

"Unless there's a crosswalk [on Georgia] at the walkway, they won't come down," Leo said. "Maybe I will see people cross [Georgia] and come down to use us if there is signage with directions to the shops."