Technically, the ground was broken months ago for a new development at the site of the former Apex building in downtown Bethesda.
So Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony felt a bit belated, held on the brink of a gaping hole at 7272 Wisconsin Ave.
“I think it’s a bottoming out” ceremony, Gov. Larry Hogan joked.
Regardless, officials and developers were eager to celebrate progress on the construction project for The Wilson and The Elm, a 23-story office building and a soaring residential complex.
The new mixed-use development encompassing nearly 1 million square feet will sit above Metro’s Red Line, the future Bethesda Purple Line station and a tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail.
Speakers at Thursday’s ceremony tossed out the word “transformative” a couple times when describing the project that will deliver office space, housing and transit options. But they also stressed the development’s complexity.
Michael Smith, Montgomery County’s development ombudsman, rattled off a lengthy list of steps on the road to construction: Tenants of the old Apex building, once home of Regal Cinemas, had to be bought out of their leases. Construction crews had to relocate the historic Community Paint and Hardware store from Wisconsin Avenue to Middleton Lane. The county had to write a new growth plan
for downtown Bethesda.
And the developer, Carr Properties, had to hammer out agreements with state and local transportation officials and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Carr also had to agree to a strict construction schedule for completing the shell of the Purple Line station, he said.
However, all that work will “create one of the most vibrant, transit-oriented development nodes in the entire Washington, D.C., region,” Smith said.
Facing Wisconsin Avenue, The Wilson office building will be about 295 feet tall and provide about 360,000 square feet of space. The Elm will include two residential towers with 456 housing units, probably apartments.
The Wilson is scheduled for completion in 2020 and The Elm for completion in 2021, according to a news release.
Carr has already signed its first office tenant, Fox 5, which plans to move its studio and newsrooms to a 57,000-square-foot space in the new high-rise. Carr is close to landing two other office tenants but isn’t ready to name them, said Alison Wertzler, a senior director with Carr.
Hogan said the development will be an economic boon for downtown Bethesda.
“This is one that’s going to create jobs and help drive the state’s economy,” he said. “It’s incredible. This project is being built above the future western terminus of the Purple Line.”
The roughly 16-mile light rail line will give Marylanders a new option for traveling between New Carrollton and Bethesda.
County Planning Director Gwen Wright said the building will also serve as an architectural landmark in Bethesda, along with several other projects also poised to bring “world-class” design to the downtown area.
“I’m going to start calling Wisconsin Avenue the avenue of great architecture,” she said.