Rendering of Bethesda Metro station entrance, via Brookfield Properties
The rendering shows a grand stairway with new escalators, large murals, a spacious bicycle storage area and sunlight shining on a clean marble floor.
It’s a long way from the drab and concrete Bethesda Metro station bus bays of today, but Brookfield Properties—the group that commissioned the rendering—says something like it is possible if the property owner is allowed to build a proposed high-rise building on the Metro Plaza above.
While the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) owns the space, Brookfield holds two ground leases that extend from street-level down to a private parking garage under the bus bays, which serve as a hub of bus activity near the long escalators that lead to the Bethesda Metro station.
“We think we can improve it dramatically,” Simon Carney, regional counsel for Brookfield Properties, said last week. “The general overall goal, and it’s not a difficult thing to do, is to make it a more attractive, brighter, airier space than what it is today. It really is to make it a more approachable area for people both coming out of the Metro and leading up onto the plaza.”
Carney said Brookfield has had preliminary discussions with Metro about making improvements to the bus bay. He also said the improvements can only happen if Brookfield is allowed to go forward with the new high-rise, a prospect that has drawn opposition from neighboring property owner Clark Enterprises.
“It really requires the ability to build a building on top to finance these improvements,” Carney said.
Bob Eisenberg, managing director at Clark Enterprises, said Brookfield’s proposal for improving the Metro station bus bays “is really necessitated” by their plans for the new high-rise, since construction of the project would require changes to the Metro bus bay structure below.
“It’s not really like a community benefit,” Eisenberg said. “It’s a subtle distinction. I just think whatever Brookfield is proposing for the bus bays or Metro station is something WMATA can do on their own.”
The Bethesda Metro station bus bays. Credit: Aaron Kraut
Until this point, Brookfield and Clark have mainly sparred over the future of the street-level Metro Plaza.
Clark, which along with neighboring property owners helped establish the plaza at the corner of Old Georgetown Road and Wisconsin Avenue in the 1970s, is opposed to a new high-rise on the spot and says the public space Brookfield is proposing away from the street won’t be successful.
Eisenberg said Clark Enterprises doesn’t oppose the 290-foot height limit recommended by Montgomery County planners for above the Metro station, but does oppose a high-rise building on the existing public open space.
Brookfield isn’t sure how tall the new building would be or how it would be used. The County Council is expected to examine the issue and many other zoning questions when it reviews the Bethesda Downtown Plan later this year.
In the short-term, Carney said Brookfield is talking with the Bethesda Urban Partnership (BUP) about installing murals on the concrete pillars in the existing bus bays.
Carney said he envisioned something like the artwork BUP brought to a concrete retaining wall on Arlington Road in September.
Brookfield provided funding for BUP’s Tunnel Vision art display in the pedestrian tunnel connecting the bus bays to the east side of Wisconsin Avenue. It also dedicated space in the nearby Bethesda Crescent office building for BUP-managed art studios.