The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved $750,000 in local incentives for four corporations, including a $500,000 grant to Fox TV to relocate two news stations to Bethesda.
Under the agreement, the county will contribute $500,000 from its Economic Development Fund so Fox 5 and Fox 5 Plus will relocate from Washington, D.C. to new headquarters at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda.
The Wisconsin Avenue site is under development by Carr Properties to become a 350,000-square-foot luxury office building with retail space and two residential properties. It sits at the future intersection of the Red Line Metro and a Purple Line light-rail station.
The office building is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020, when Fox’s lease expires in D.C., according to council documents. Both stations would then relocate to Montgomery County.
Fox 5 first announced its plans to move to Bethesda in 2017. At the time, the station planned to move roughly 200 employees to the new site in June of 2021. The station has been at its current location at 5151 Wisconsin Ave. in Friendship Heights since 1966, according to its original announcement.
In exchange for the grant, Fox must have at least 178 full-time employees and maintain its headquarters in the county for a minimum of 10 years. The company must also invest at least $32.5 million in the Bethesda property by Dec. 31, 2021.
The council also supported a $1 million loan to Fox from the state of Maryland — another economic incentive for relocating from D.C to Bethesda.
It’s unusual for media organizations to accept direct funding from government sources, though federal contributions have long been in place through postal subsidies and tax breaks, according to researchers from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
When funding sources intersect with news coverage, it’s considered best practice for media organizations to acknowledge a potential conflict of interest. When The Washington Post covers Amazon, for example, it generally discloses that the company’s founder and owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns the newspaper.
In a phone conversation on Monday, Erica Keane, the senior vice president of communications for Fox TV Stations, said she would look into whether Fox 5 planned to implement a similar policy for reporters covering the Montgomery County government.
She did not immediately return a phone call and email sent Monday afternoon requesting additional information.
The County Council also approved a $100,000 grant to Urban One Inc. — the largest black-owned broadcasting company in the United States — as an incentive for the company to expand its headquarters in Silver Spring. Urban One’s radio and TV stations focus mostly on music, lifestyle and entertainment.
The state of Maryland will loan the company $200,000 as an additional incentive.
Both grants come as part of a larger economic incentives package for locally based companies. The council approved two additional grants for bio and tech companies, including:
• REGENXBIO, a gene therapy company in Rockville. The state will provide $700,000 and the county will provide $100,000 to help the firm add jobs and remain in Rockville.
• RADA Technologies LLC, a company specializing in defense electronics. The state will provide $300,000 and the county will provide $50,000 to bring the company to Germantown.
The council did not discuss the incentives before approving them on Tuesday.
At a meeting last week, Council Member Will Jawando framed the grants as “perfectly in line” with an economic development platform council members adopted earlier in November.
“All of [these companies] have committed, with our investment, to expanding the amount of jobs in the county,” he said. “And as we’re continuing to talk about why Montgomery County is a great place to do business, these are steps that the state has partnered on to help us expand the economy and job market here in the county.”