A major new mixed-use building celebrated its groundbreaking Wednesday afternoon and the event served as a reminder of how downtown Silver Spring has changed.
Grosvenor Americas, the developer, unveiled the name of the building—Central—at the event on the former site of First Baptist Church.
As representatives from the developer, county and church, spoke on a stage, the last remnant of the church—its steeple—stood behind them. It was all that was left of the red brick building constructed in 1950; the rest has been demolished.
Former County Executive Doug Duncan joined County Executive Ike Leggett to make comments at the event.
After Duncan said he only played a small part in this particular development, Leggett went to bat for his predecessor and recent challenger in the 2014 Democratic primary. He lauded Duncan’s role in pushing for the redevelopment of Silver Spring.
“It was not easy to revitalize Silver Spring, many people had given up,” Leggett said. “This development is called Central, but it could have been called outta—outta sight, outta mind and if you wanted to develop in Silver Spring, it was outta the question.”
Central will include 234 apartments, 16,000 square feet of ground floor retail space, 252 parking spaces and a public walkway between Wayne Avenue and Bonifant Street. The public walkway will feature a lit glass public art fixture by the Frederick-based artist William Cochran.
The development started to take shape about 15 years ago when church leaders began thinking about how to save their church and its aging building. That’s when Doug McIntosh took over as pastor following the previous pastor’s death. On Wednesday, McIntosh said he inherited a church building in 2001 that would cost nearly $3 million to bring up to code.
He said he realized the only hope was to find a partner to develop the church site and build them a new church. The church and community went through a few early development proposals that McIntosh says didn’t mesh with their vision, before giving Grosvenor a chance about five years ago.
“I almost gave up in the depths of the recession and we prayed with tears,” McIntosh said, before turning to Grosvenor’s Vice President of Development Don Capobres and saying, “It seemed as if you were the angels sent to us.”
The church gave up two-thirds of its land at the site to allow Grosvenor to build Central. In exchange, Grosvenor will build First Baptist a new church building and daycare center on the remaining land.
The development represents a change for the church, which will be renamed the Federated Baptist Churches of Silver Spring. The new church building will include space for three different congregations—the current First Baptist congregation, as well as a Spanish-speaking church and Haitian congregation that have been renting space in the old red brick building, according to McIntosh.
McIntosh said while each congregation will have space to worship separately, the children of each congregation will be educated together to help build their language skills and expose them to different cultures.
“We are grateful God sent Grosvenor to us, now we’re going to lay the burden on them,” McIntosh said.
Capobres, the Grosvenor official, said it will take the company about 22 months to complete the project, which also gained approval from neighbors in East Silver Spring.
Karen Roper, of the East Silver Spring Citizens’ Association, said Grosvenor officials came to meetings in local living rooms to receive input before heading to the planning board to receive approvals for the project.
She said by cooperating with the community they mitigated the concerns of the neighborhood—particularly that the building would dwarf the small single-family homes that line Bonifant Street—by promising to build the larger portions near the intersection of Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street.
The new development also has the potential to enliven a block of downtown Silver Spring that has experienced frequent construction—first with the Whole Foods development, then with the Silver Spring Library—once it’s completed.
“We’re passionate about creating places that are vibrant,” Capobres said. “And we’re looking to do more.”
A new rendering showing what Central will look like at the corner of Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street