Brookfield Office Properties this weekend released its vision for a new 10,000-square-foot park near Bethesda Metro Plaza.
The company, owner of 3 Bethesda Metro Center, is seeking zoning changes through the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan to allow a new high-rise building on the plaza. The area sits above the Bethesda Metro station bus bays.
Brookfield regional counsel Simon Carney has said a new building and new park tucked behind it is the best way to reinvigorate what’s been a largely failed public space. On Saturday, Brookfield officials presented renderings and answered questions in an open house about the concept, which it has labeled Bethesda Central Park.
“People aren’t utilizing this space,” said Brookfield Vice President Andrew Jones. “One of the primary goals is to mitigate that obstruction by sort of leveling the grade. Instead of having nine different grade chances, have zero grade changes. Once people identify what’s there, they’re going to want to be there.”
Brookfield would own the park, but through development approval of its new building would be required to keep it open for the public and events such as movies, music shows and dance performances.
Carney said the open house Saturday was meant to get community input and build support for the project.
Neighboring property owner Clark Enterprises won’t be supporting the plan and has submitted its own renderings of a new park closer to the street it argues would be better for the community.
Clark was one of the Metro Plaza property owners that fought a 16-story office building proposal from the previous owner, arguing it would ruin views from its Old Georgetown Road building and hurt any chance at improving the public space.
Brookfield bought 3 Bethesda Metro Center in 2011 from Meridian, the previous property owner, and has hired land use attorney Bob Harris, who represented Meridian in its unsuccessful attempt to win approval for the new building.
Clark hired architect David Kitchens, known for his work on Bethesda Row, to come up with renderings of a new park right at Wisconsin Avenue and Old Georgetown Road. Company officials have said a park visible to the intersection would make it more accessible and more lively.
Clark and Brookfield have hired local public relations agencies to help make their case. Both have presented at a citizens advisory board, nearby civic groups and the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce.
“Really, this is a Brookfield project,” Carney said Saturday. “We own this property.”
Brookfield owns a long-term ground lease of the property from WMATA. On Saturday, Harris told open house attendees the project could include improvements to the Metro bus bays below.
When asked if people would use the park if it’s blocked from the Metro entrance by a new building, Jones said the building would include glass and high bay windows, effectively making it translucent.
“Even if there’s a building there, you’re going to see through,” Jones said.
Brookfield officials also said new retail or commercial space in the new building and 3 Bethesda Metro Center would draw people into the park.
The open house included Debra Simon, who runs Brookfield’s art division. Simon organizes and promotes arts programming in Brookfield’s open spaces at its New York and Los Angeles office and retail complexes.
“We’re sort of an animated, innovative place where you feel energy and change,” Simon said. “Not only for the benefit of our tenants, but for the community as well. We want people here at night and on the weekends. We want it to be lively.”
Renderings via Brookfield Office Properties