Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Open forum: Silver Spring’s ‘cultural crown jewel’ being snatched away

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In August 2006, the then-county executive, Doug Duncan, announced Montgomery County’s intention to bring a new ‘‘cultural crown jewel” to Silver Spring: the Birchmere Music Hall. Amazingly, that crown jewel has now been stolen from the citizens of Silver Spring, and it looks like whoever took it is going to get away with it. Downtown Silver Spring is all the worse off for it, and in a real sense, the effort to revitalize Silver Spring just took a huge step back.

It strikes me as odd that at the meeting with residents on Aug. 13, the county is now raising an issue about a ‘‘non-binding letter of intent” that they say Birchmere didn’t sign at any point during the five-year agreement. In the county’s press release on July 26, it didn’t mention this concern but instead focused on the county’s concern that Birchmere never signed ‘‘final terms.”

If the negotiation was at the point where the two sides were quibbling about the final terms, it strongly implies that both the county and the Birchmere were clearly involved in the final, binding stages of negotiations, and as such were considerably past the stage of needing a non-binding letter. And it strikes me as odd that if this non-binding letter of intent was such a stumbling block, why would the Duncan administration announce its plan to secure $4 million from the county and $4 million from the state back in August 2006. Clearly this was not an impediment for the county or the state as of Aug. 30, 2006.

It strikes me as odd that the county says it and the Birchmere were far apart on a ‘‘multitude of” essential business terms, but refuses to substantiate even one example. The Birchmere has publicly stated that it was very close to agreeing on terms. In the absence of any evidence, this situation just devolves into a ‘‘he said⁄she said” disagreement, and the real losers here are the residents of Silver Spring.

It strikes me as odd that there is almost no discussion of the Lees’ relationship in this deal. The county claims that the Lees had a ‘‘compelling interest” to close this deal. And yet, the Lees didn’t close the deal. Is it realistic to assume that the fault lies solely on one party, or is it more realistic to assume that in a trilateral negotiation the three sides were advocating for their own needs, and each of the three parties shoulders some responsibility for not being able to agree on the specific terms? I, for one, would like to hear the Lees’ side of this situation, to find out what they considered the impediment to signing this deal.

What this situation needed was not just someone who had the patience of Job, but, to extend the analogy, one who had the wisdom of Solomon and the activism and vision of Isaiah. It begged for mediation. And the result is a devastating loss for Silver Spring’s residents.

The cultural crown jewel envisioned by the Duncan administration has been stolen from the people of Silver Spring and we continue to look at an empty shell of a building. It is a very sad day indeed.

If you are concerned about this issue, write to County, by writing County Executive Ike Leggett at: ike.leggett@montgomerycountymd.gov

Rich Swanson, Silver Spring