Changes in downtown Silver Spring started with a pop of color.
Foulger-Pratt, a regional development firm, is modernizing some of its properties in the downtown area with a fresh coat of paint, said Bryant Foulger, the chairman of the company’s board of directors.
The bright new colors are part of a long-term plan to revitalize the firm’s 20-year-old development on Ellsworth Drive, a blend of shopping, dining, and public space that resident Cindy Post called the “heart of downtown Silver Spring.”
Foulger met with community members on Monday to answer questions and field concerns over the changes, which largely involve aesthetic improvements to the development’s outdoor areas.
The firm started with updates — including the new paint job — that didn’t require new easements or planning permits, he said. But over the next year and a half, Foulger-Pratt plans to make some significant changes, starting with the section of Ellsworth Drive that runs through the development.
“We want to update the project to make it more interesting, more exciting,” Foulger told a crowd at the Silver Spring Civic Center, just a few blocks from the planned changes. “We want to make it a space where people dwell.”
To that end, the company plans to close Ellsworth Drive to vehicle traffic and add artificial turf on top of the existing asphalt. The space — which Foulger described as a “linear park” — would be reimagined as a public recreation area with cornhole boards, ping-pong tables and outdoor seating for visitors.
“It brings color,” Foulger added. “It brings interest. We want to do fun things with the furniture.”
Several residents at the meeting expressed concern that the new addition would affect the farmers market held at the development on Saturdays. Foulger responded that the reimagined walkway would be designed to accommodate emergency vehicles, so farmers could still drive and set up their trucks on the artificial turf.
The biggest concerns were expressed after his announcement of substantial exterior changes to Silver Plaza, a public space on Ellsworth Drive with a public fountain and splash pad. “When we first built that splash pad, it was cutting-edge,” Foulger told the crowd. “Now, it needs an update.”
The firm plans to remove the splash pad and replace it with a smaller water feature that’s not intended as a play or recreation area, Foulger said. Architects, in their design, will streamline a large black staircase on the plaza that was designed as an ornamental feature, and they’ll move the plaza’s glass elevator tower indoors.
The changes are intended to open up the space and make it more welcoming for visitors, Foulger said. The company also plans to add wooden benches that can be fitted together to create a stage for public events.
Many residents were concerned that removing the splash pad would make the area less welcoming for children and families. The feature attracts a broad range of visitors who might not be able to afford a pool membership, Post said, and the community benefited from their engagement with the popular fountain.
“In terms of recreation resources, there aren’t really other splash pads nearby,” added Ariel Bierbaum, who attended the meeting with her 6-month-old-daughter, Agnes. “As a new parent, I know this is a popular place for a lot of families, and we don’t have a lot of control when it’s a private developer filling those gaps.”
Reemberto Rodriguez, the director of the Silver Spring Regional Center, said new aquatic resources would open in the city within three to five years. In 2017, the Montgomery County Planning Board approved a public-private plan to add a county aquatic center to the ground floor of Elizabeth Square, a housing complex that’s being redeveloped into a blend of affordable, senior, and market-rate apartments.
For Post and Bierbaum, the planned recreation center isn’t an exact replacement for the free splash pad. But Rodriguez said it’s still important to inform the community of planned changes and update existing downtown development.
“No urban space can stay stagnant,” he said. “If it does, it’s economically dead.”
Foulger-Pratt also plans to eliminate the decorative fountain at Gateway Plaza — an area protected by a historic easement — and replace it with a new public artwork. The development will gain more art with five large-scale murals planned for the exterior walls of the Regal Majestic movie theater on Ellsworth Drive.