- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Birchmere music hall’s plans to open a second venue in Silver Spring ended after negotiations with Montgomery County broke down.

For nearly five years, Birchmere and county officials have discussed opening an $8 million music hall in downtown Silver Spring at 8656 Colesville Road — the site of the old J.C. Penney’s Department store.

Yesterday, they announced the deal has fallen apart.

“We’ve been trying to work out a contract with them and work out terms,” said Patrick Lacefield, Montgomery County spokesman. “Unfortunately, we weren’t getting any closer on that despite the fact we’ve been at it for some years.”

The Birchmere, a nationally known music hall in Alexandria, was supposed to be a major addition to Montgomery County’s plans for a theater district in the revitalized section of downtown Silver Spring.

The American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and the performing arts Round House Theatre are across from the site, which now consists of a large parking lot and the historic storefront of the former J.C. Penney’s building. The rest of the building was torn down 17 years ago. The Majestic 20 movie theater is a short walk around the corner.

Although Montgomery County officials still want to use the site for a music hall, it would not include the Birchmere.

“We felt that it was time to explore alternatives and we are actively doing that,” Mr. Lacefield said. “All I can say is that it will be live music entertainment in that space.”

He would give few details of why negotiations broke down other than to say the parties were unable to resolve differences over partnership agreements among the Birchmere, the county and the real estate developer, Lee Development Group.

The county had agreed to donate $2 million toward a Silver Spring Birchmere. The Maryland General Assembly approved another $2 million in April. Lee Development Group was donating land valued at $3 million and planned to build a 152-room hotel, an office building and a new 650-space parking lot behind the planned music hall.

The Birchmere planned to donate another $1 million.

The county and state funding still is available and would be used for any other live entertainment project built on the site, Mr. Lacefield said.

“The [county] executive has spoken with the governor about the alternative,” Mr. Lacefield said. “The governor has indicated he’s fine with the same sort of thing in the same place.”

The Birchmere blamed Montgomery County for the breakdown in negotiations.

“Now, without cause or plausible explanation, the county has apparently chosen to breach its agreement with the Birchmere,” the music hall stated yesterday. “Any assertion by the county or any other entity that the parties were unable to reach agreement on the essential business terms is patently and demonstrably false.”

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