It’s a reality well documented in Bethesda—people don’t gather at the public plaza above the Metro station on Wisconsin Avenue.
To fix that fact, Brookfield Office Properties is pitching construction of a new building and additional retail in the middle of the plaza that could separate the space and create two new retail alleyways similar in size to Bethesda Lane. The two alleyways would lead to a renovated “central park” in the former ice rink space between existing office buildings and the Hyatt Hotel.
“We could redefine this space through the insertion of new development in a strategically located place,” Mark Regulinski, a SOM LLP architect working with Brookfield on ways to rethink the plaza, said at a Bethesda property owners’ planning forum Wednesday.
This idea is separate from the speculative park concept presented by Clark Enterprises earlier this week.
Brookfield owns 3 Metro Center, the large white office building at the plaza and the attached glass pavilion. It has a long-term ground lease on the plaza with the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority and the right to redevelop it with Metro’s consent, according to a WMATA spokeswoman.
“The goal is to create the feeling of wanting to be there,” Simon Carney, regional counsel for Brookfield, said.
Regulinski said the design of the current plaza pushed the retail well off the street, which led to its demise. As some may remember, the current Streetsense offices at the site inside the glass pavilion were designed for retail and once operated as a food court.
Regulinski said Brookfield studied successful retail areas and found that alleyways about 250 feet long and 40 feet wide work well and used Bethesda Lane as an example. In order to create something similar at the plaza, a new building could be constructed with ground floor retail to draw people in from Wisconsin Avenue and Old Georgetown Road and from the bus plaza below the Metro, he said.
When Brookfield bought the property in 2011, it intended to reignite the Meridian Group’s previous plans to build a new office building at the site. Meridian’s 2008 proposal to build a new 200-foot office tower was rejected by the planning board after other local developers fought it in what The Washington Post called a “Goliath vs. Goliath” fight.
The planning board said the proposal didn’t fit in with the sector plan’s long-term goals for the area. However, the board said the dispute started a much-needed conversation about what to do with the moribund space.
“The plaza and the bus area desperately need attention,” said Royce Hanson, the planning board chairman at the time, according to the Post.
Planners have said they’re looking for ways to make the plaza more attractive as part of the revision of the Bethesda Downtown Plan.
Brookfield representatives discussing the company’s proposal Wednesday said the plan was in its preliminary stages. They did not provide a height for the project or say whether their proposed building would include office or residential space as well as retail.
A diagram that shows how pedestrian traffic could flow through new retail alleys surrounding a new building in the plaza.
The current layout of the space.
All images via Brookfield’s presentation Wednesday during a property owners’ forum hosted by the Montgomery Planning Department (except for the first plaza picture)