- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Montgomery County’s plans to bring a popular music hall to downtown Silver Spring have stalled over uncertainties about funding.

County officials wanted the Birchmere Music Hall to open a second location as an entertainment addition to their $1.5 billion redevelopment of the Silver Spring business district.

“We’re nowhere,” Gary Oelze, president of the Alexandria concert venue, said about the status of negotiations with Montgomery County. “It probably won’t happen.”

However, Montgomery County officials still are holding out hope that negotiations will persuade Mr. Oelze to open a second music hall.

The Birchmere is known for hosting a variety of nationally recognized entertainers at its location in Alexandria. It also sponsors musical shows throughout the Washington region.

County Executive Douglas M. Duncan approached Mr. Oelze two years ago about the possibility of relocating or opening a second music hall across from the American Film Institute on Colesville Road near Georgia Avenue.

The property on the site of an old J.C. Penney’s store is owned by real estate developer Lee Development Group. Blair Lee, chief executive officer of Lee Development Group, did not return phone calls.

Under one proposal, the county would give Birchmere Music Hall the money to purchase the property. The music hall would then give the property back to the county with rights to develop the site.

Mr. Oelze said a music hall could be successful in downtown Silver Spring, but only if the start-up funding problems can be resolved.

“There are 4 million people up there that don’t ever cross the river into Virginia,” he said. “There’s a market up there. I guess Strathmore’s budget got in the way.”

Montgomery County spent $100 million to build a symphony theater and music school on the grounds of Strathmore Hall in Bethesda.

Originally, the project was slated to cost $68 million when work began in April 2001, but the early estimate was flawed, according to Montgomery County officials. The center was completed in February 2005.

Mr. Oelze says the county expended so much of its budget on Strathmore Hall that it lacks funding to buy the property for a new Birchmere Music Hall in Silver Spring.

County officials deny funding diverted to Strathmore Hall is interfering with a Birchmere Music Hall in Silver Spring.

“In terms of funding, Strathmore has nothing to do with Birchmere or any other business deal we would like to work on,” said Joe Shapiro, spokesman for the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.

County officials would still like to see the music hall built on Colesville Road.

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