SILVER SPRING – Brightly colored storefronts and work on one of four giant murals has begun as part of a $10 million overhaul to the Ellsworth Avenue area of Downtown Silver Spring.
While no buildings will be added or taken down, the shopping district is expected to take on a very different look as Ellsworth Avenue will be permanently closed to vehicular traffic. Artificial turf will be laid on top instead, explained Bryant Foulger, chairman of Foulger-Pratt Contracting. They are working with Peterson Companies to redo the area.
“We really want this to be a place where people come out and dwell,” he said to the 75 community members who gathered at the Silver Spring Civic Center Sept. 16.
Scattered along the turf-covered street will be benches and chairs for sitting and equipment to play games like ping pong and corn hole.
“We want this to be a fun place,” he said, labeling the area a linear urban park.
What will not be there is the popular water splash pad where young children have played during the hot weather for about 15 years.
The large staircase by the fountain also will be removed.
Several people attending the meeting were dismayed to hear the fountain will be removed.
Foulger, as well as other designers attending the meeting, attempted to reassure them by noting that instead of the splash pad, many other activities that would attract more than just toddlers were built into the plans.
Many wooden structures for seating would be scattered throughout the former fountain area. Those structures will be movable, allowing for concerts and other events of various sizes, he explained.
The wooden furniture could be used as a stage as well as seating.
The changes are expected to be made over the next year-and-a-half to two years.
“We’ve already begun. We started doing things we don’t need permits for,” like painting, he said.
“Downtown Silver Spring has been a great success,” Foulger said. The goal is to “refresh it and bring it up to date,” he said.
Parking by the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, in front of the area by the Red Lobster, will be eliminated. Instead, seating will be added there.
Many in the audience were relieved to hear that the Saturday morning farmer’s market would continue in its same location, although they questioned whether those selling their fruits, vegetables and breads would have to remove the new furniture by themselves and walk further with their goods without a drivable road there.
The downtown area, which encompasses the Silver Spring Civic Center, AFI theater and the Fillmore Silver Spring music venue, is a 440,000-square-foot area that runs from Ellsworth Drive to Fenton Street. It currently features stores, restaurants and a movie theater.
New to the area will be The Eleanor, a 7,700-square-foot store, which will feature a bar and grill, a bowling lounge, more than a dozen arcade games and an outdoor patio. Located where Macaroni Grill was, The Eleanor will be similar to its location on Florida Avenue in Northwest Washington, D.C.
Ulta, a beauty store, will relocate to nearby Fenton Street. Foulger said it is too early to say what will go into that space, but said that it was large enough to become two or three stores.
“We don’t talk about the tenants we are talking to,” Foulger said.
While he expected most stores and restaurants to remain, not all will, Foulger predicted. When asked which stores would be moving, Foulger would not specify, but did not rule out the possibility of evicting a current tenant if need be. He also added that it is difficult to bring in any retailers who already have establishments in nearby areas such as Bethesda and Pike & Rose.
Lastly, it was announced that artists from around the world will create the four giant murals that will be displayed over some of the blank fronts of some of the stores. The artists were chosen following a review of their work, Foulger said. The first mural is already currently underway on Fenton Street near the movie theater.
Foulger said he has not seen a finished draft of what they will look like, adding that the artists were told only to create something whimsical and fun.