2014 | Real Estate

County Says Apex Building Optimal Purple Line Station Too Expensive

Decision could impact separate tunnel for Capital Crescent Trail

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The Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Avenue

via Googla Streetview

Montgomery County Council members Wednesday agreed with County Executive Ike Leggett’s recommendation that tearing down the Apex building in downtown Bethesda to build a station on the proposed Purple Line would be too expensive.

“The county executive would love to go with the Apex thing,” said Patrick Lacefield, Leggett’s spokesman, “But it’s too expensive. We can’t justify that in terms of cost to taxpayers. That’s the bottom line.”

District 1 Councilmember Roger Berliner, who represents the Bethesda area, said a majority of the council members agreed with Leggett during a closed session Wednesday, but said he couldn’t go into specifics about the financial details.

Berliner said the state believes that an adequate station can built if the existing Apex building remains standing.

“The numbers we were given were so high that the county executive was not supportive and nor were a majority of my colleagues,” Berliner said, “and quite frankly the state was not supportive either. The state was concerned about delays resulting from potential litigation and the time it would take to tear down the building.”

Previously, the county pursued negotiating a deal to demolish and redevelop the building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. with its owners, the American Society of Heath-System Pharmacists. In addtion to office tenants, the building houses the Regal Cinemas movie theater.

The optimal Bethesda Purple Line station would include an elevator connection to the Red Line and a separate tunnel for bicyclists and trail users, according to county planning documents.

The major impact of the decision not to tear down the Apex Building is that it is likely to preclude a separate tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue for the future Capital Crescent Trail, which could result in a street-level crossing for trail users at Wisconsin Avenue because there’s not enough room for the trail and the Purple Line in the current tunnel.

David Lublin, a former Town of Chevy Chase councilmember, first reported the latest developments on the Apex building on his Seventh State blog. Lublin reported the costs to the county were estimated at roughly $70 million.

In order to work within the existing tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue to build a Purple Line station, a center platform would be constructed, according to Marc DeOcampo, a master planning supervisor for the Montgomery County Planning Department.

DeOcampo said a direct connection from the Purple Line to the Red Line is still feasible without demolishing the Apex building, although it would be a different design – involving elevator shafts in a sidewalk area at the corner of Elm Street and Wisconsin Avenue.

Montgomery County is committed to paying for such a connection, at a projected cost of around $60 million.

Berliner said some negotiations may continue with the owners of the Apex building. He said if they make an offer that’s significantly less than what is now on the table, the county may reconsider.

But if county and state must pursue the original Bethesda Purple Line station plan, Berliner acknowledged, “It’s less than an optimal trail for bikers and trail users, less than an optimal station and less than an optimal Woodmont East Plaza.”

The Bethesda station would be the western most Purple Line station. The light rail line, as currently proposed, will include 21 stations between Bethesda and New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. The current estimated cost of the project is $2.45 billion.