September-October 2011 | Features

Making Its Silver Spring Debut…

The Fillmore Music Hall opens to high hopes after years of controversy and complaints.

County Executive Ike Leggett seemed to view the offer as too late. “We’ve been out there, and some people have come and talked to us, but this was the first I heard from them,” he told the Post at the time.

In June 2010, Hurwitz sued the state, saying construction subsidies for the project violated Maryland law. The lawsuit was dismissed in March. Hurwitz and others at IMP declined to comment for this story.

Meanwhile, there were other rumbles of discontent.

In a 2008 memo to the Montgomery County Council, Royce Hanson, then chairman of the county’s planning board, complained that Lee Development Group was seeking a “blank check” for future development on the rest of the site.

Debate also centered on the use of state and county funds for a live music venue at a time of sweeping budget cuts. In an April 2010 letter to the chairman of the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, Sen. Ed DeGrange, D-Glen Burnie, expressed “serious and significant concerns” about the project.

That August, David Dise, director of the county’s Department of General Services, sent a memo to Leggett saying the project’s cost had risen to $11.2 million since the original $8 million estimate nearly eight years earlier, and that additional funds would have to be transferred from other county recreation projects that had come in under budget.

An editorial in The Examiner that month pronounced the unexpected increase “more than enough to reconsider the whole project” in tough budgetary times.

Still, on a scorching day last September, several hundred people, including county officials, Live Nation executives, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and residents, gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony. Leggett joked that he hoped to see Sly and the Family Stone perform there.

The Fillmore’s musical legacy is built on big acts and rock ’n’ roll street cred, and the venue in Silver Spring will be no different. Its décor will mimic the original Fillmore, with dark red walls covered with psychedelic rock posters, including a hand-painted 27-footer in the landing of a grand staircase; crystal chandeliers hanging from 40-foot ceilings; and, of course, an iconic barrel of complimentary apples near the entrance, homage to the apple barrel that Fillmore founder Bill Graham kept near the entrance at the first venue in San Francisco.

It’s not an exact copy, but one that has “evolved to fit today’s life,” says Arich Berghammer, executive vice president for North American music in Live Nation’s clubs and theaters division.

The sweeping mezzanine overlooking the main room will be U-shaped, covering more of the space below than at the original Fillmore. It will look down on an amphitheater-size stage taking up roughly a third of the main auditorium below, designed to accommodate multiple guitars and a drum set. The venue will fit as many as 2,000 standing, or a few hundred seated audience-members, and could host events as often as four to six times per week, Berghammer says.

And while it will honor the original Fillmore’s place in rock history, it will have the open-door policy of a county recreation center. “We’re happy to do a bar or bat mitzvah, a wedding, a business-related function, a chamber of commerce mixer—anything you could do in a major hotel,” Berghammer says.

County officials expect the Fillmore to generate $1 million in annual tax revenue, with $800,000 going to the state and $200,000 to the county, according to Lacefield, the county spokesman.

County officials and nearby business owners also expect the Fillmore to breathe new life into the west side of Colesville Road, which has remained largely untouched by the redevelopment of Ellsworth Drive. Lee says his company will begin construction of a Marriott Residence Inn adjacent to the Fillmore as early as next fall, and he still expects to put up an office building on the rest of the site in the future. Lee says he envisions the music hall, AFI and the Round House Theatre having “a Broadway effect” on Colesville Road.

“[Live Nation] has access to so many acts not only in the U.S., but around the world,” Lee says. “You’re bringing the Mercedes of music into downtown Silver Spring. That’s pretty cool.”

For Fillmore’s event calendar and venue information, visit FillmoreSilverSpring.com.

Amy Reinink’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, Entrepreneur and Women’s Running. She lives in Silver Spring.