Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007

Birchmere Music Hall picks College Park for new location

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Thanks to former Montgomery County executive Douglas M. Duncan, Silver Spring’s loss is College Park’s gain.

The Birchmere Music Hall, the Alexandria, Va., concert venue that recently saw plans to open another location in Silver Spring break down, has announced plans to open a 500-seat, state-of-the art concert hall in College Park. The proposed hall is part of a major redevelopment project by the University of Maryland and Foulger-Pratt⁄Argo of Rockville.

‘‘Five years ago this was Doug’s idea for the Birchmere to come to Silver Spring, as part of the redevelopment of Silver Spring,” said Gary Oelze, founder of the Birchmere. ‘‘If he was still there we’d be opening up in Silver Spring next year.”

Talks broke down with Montgomery County officials on the Birchmere project in Silver Spring. That’s when Duncan, now the University of Maryland vice president for administrative affairs, stepped in.

‘‘I worked hard to get it into Montgomery County,” Duncan said. ‘‘I thought it was the finishing touch for the revitalization of Silver Spring.” After the Birchmere talks ended with Montgomery County, Duncan contacted Birchmere officials about locating in College Park.

‘‘Doug called us up and said he wanted to talk to us,” Oelze said. ‘‘He said, ‘If they don’t want you, we want you to come here.’ So now it’s even better for us ... now we have a more reputable builder, and we’ll be working with Doug.”

Oelze said the music hall project in College Park would cost between $8 million and $10 million.

‘‘We are very excited to have such a major player in the local music scene join us in creating a world-class, mixed-use center in College Park,” said Richard Perlmutter of Argo Investment Co. in a statement.

Oelze said he is hopeful of still getting a $4 million incentive payment from the state, money that was slated for the Silver Spring project.

‘‘The grant [from the state] was to bring the Birchmere into Maryland and it was for Silver Spring,” Duncan said. ‘‘There is a hope that the money would follow them. That is our request.”

The 2.6 million-square-foot mixed-use East Campus development project will include retail, residential, hotel and office space.

Under the deal, the Birchmere — which has featured acts such as Herbie Hancock, Lyle Lovett and Arturo Sandoval at its original venue — would also build and operate a stage for up-and-coming singer-songwriters in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, according to information from the University of Maryland.

‘‘Our goal with the East Campus development is to give the community more entertainment, retail and restaurant options, and the Birchmere will be a key part in this effort,” Duncan said in the statement.