Bethesda Metro Center Plaza Developer Says High-Rise Plans Won’t Result in Loss of Open Space

Company looks to clean up the plaza, bring more shopping and events to the site


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A rendering of a development planned at Bethesda Metro Center Plaza.

BROOKFIELD PROPERTY PARTNERS

Community members who have long hoped for a transformation at Bethesda Metro Center Plaza listened Wednesday as a developer promised to energize the key downtown property.

Brookfield Property Partners is preparing concept plans for a 500,000-square-foot high-rise that will replace the three-story, former food court that now stands on the plaza.

Project representatives said they intend to bring life to the dreary outdoor space by creating a 15,000-square-foot lawn that could hold outdoor fitness programs or temporary art installations, a retail promenade, a temporary art zone and a more open and inviting main plaza.

“We understand this is the front door to Bethesda,” architect Peter Glasson said during the community meeting at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.

However, community members urged the project representatives to learn from the plaza’s history. There have been numerous attempts to liven up the space—including adding an ice skating rink—but none succeeded at turning the site into a downtown destination.

Bethesda resident Katya Marin said the ground-level businesses on the plaza don’t tend to draw traffic, and oddly placed planters and pavers make the area unwelcoming to pedestrians.

“There’s all this weirdness in the plaza that makes it unnavigable,” she said.

Simon Carney of Brookfield said his company plans to clear up the plaza to encourage more people to use it and to renovate the Metro bus bays at the site.

“This is the first thing you see when you get to Bethesda, and it’s a pretty sad sight when you get off the Metro,” he said.

Overall, the project at 4 Bethesda Metro Center will result in no loss of open space, which totals about 1.2 acres, and will increase the amount of lawn at the property, Glasson said.

Major aspects of the building project are still undetermined. Project representatives said they expect to decide later this year whether to fill the high-rise with offices or homes. Carney, the senior vice president of Brookfield’s U.S. office division, said they plan to put 6,000 to 8,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor.

The shopping and dining promenade will be about 55 feet wide, comparable to Bethesda Row, and will benefit from ongoing retail upgrades at the neighboring Hyatt Regency Bethesda, Carney said.

The building height allowed on the property increased from 175 feet to 290 feet when county leaders approved the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan this year. Brookfield representatives said they aren’t sure how tall the high-rise will be, but current plans are for a building with a roughly 23,000-square-foot footprint.

Carney said Brookfield doesn’t technically own the plaza property, but has signed a decades-long agreement to lease the ground from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. He said the company will share proceeds from the development with Metro authorities.

A land-use attorney representing Brookfield Properties estimated that the developer will turn in a sketch plan to the Montgomery County Planning Department within the next month.

Story updated to correct the headline; the developer said the project will not result in the loss of open space.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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