- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2000

Discovery Communications Inc. has postponed plans for a third building in downtown Silver Spring, although several other television and Internet companies continue to flock to the market.

Cable television giant Discovery said last week it will not lease a 320,000-square-foot office building slated for construction at the site of a former post office on Eastern Avenue.

The project, announced in August, would have been Discovery's third building in town. The company, now based in Bethesda, plans to break ground Nov. 8 on a new headquarters on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.

Discovery is also renovating a former Caldor department store on East-West Highway in Silver Spring, where it plans to locate its Internet operation, Discovery.com.

Donald A. Baer, an executive vice president for Discovery, said the company has postponed but has not canceled its plans for a third building.

"We just want to maintain flexibility for the future," Mr. Baer said.

Renovation of the Caldor site is expected to be completed soon, and the new headquarters building will be finished by 2002, Mr. Baer said. The company expects to employ between 1,800 and 2,000 workers in Silver Spring when the projects are completed, he said.

Several other media companies have already set up shop in Silver Spring, hoping to feed off the new crop of tech-savvy workers they expect Discovery to bring to town.

Last week, the company that produces the Fox-TV show "America's Most Wanted" moved into 4,700 square feet of office space at 801 Wayne Ave. A national telecommunications company and several small Internet operations have also set up shop in town.

"America's Most Wanted" Executive Producer Lance Heflin said his company "identified Silver Spring as a new mecca for future television productions… . We want to be a part of this very important center."

He added that the pending Discovery move and the planned opening of an American Film Institute (AFI) outpost in the renovated Silver Theatre on Colesville Road were key factors in his company's decision to move from Northern Virginia.

Silver Spring is also home to the D.C.-area affiliate for the Spanish-language television network Univision, WMDO-TV, which operates its offices and studios at 962 Wayne Ave.

Other media-industry tenants include several small Internet firms and Arbros Communications Inc., a national telecommunications company that has leased almost 60,000 square feet of space in the Station Square complex at 1100 Wayne Ave.

Rob Blaker, an agent for Rockville-based commercial brokerage Scheer Partners Inc. who represents Mr. Heflin's company, said Silver Spring is becoming known as "media central" in suburban Washington. He said companies from similar industries tend to cluster near each other, such as the cluster of lawyers and accountants that have set up shop along K Street NW in the District.

But Mr. Blaker said growth in Silver Spring could be stymied by a lack of office space.

Of the 2.6 million square feet of office space in Silver Spring, only 128,000 square feet or 4.9 percent is available, according to Alexandria-based real estate research firm Delta Associates.

Although the Silver Spring rate is higher than the overall 4 percent vacancy rate in the D.C. area, Silver Spring still needs more space to accommodate small companies like Mr. Heflin's, Mr. Blaker said.

"It's the biggest challenge facing the market," he said.

Mr. Baer said media companies such as Discovery are also attracted to Silver Spring because of the urban renewal project there. Several stores and restaurants, including a Fresh Fields grocery and a Baja Fresh Mexican Grill have been opened in town in recent months.

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