Purple Line Delay Not Stalling Carr, JBG’s Bethesda Developments
Maryland officials are putting pressure on a judge to allow construction to begin on the Purple Line, the 16-mile light rail planned to connect Bethesda and New Carrollton, but the major developments next to the line's western terminus are ready to move forward even without assurance it will be built.
Carr's plan to build two connected residential towers and an office tower, which will rise nearly 300 feet high, received planning board approval in January. The developer is self-funding the project, replacing the Apex Building at the site, at least for the time being, CEO Oliver Carr III said. It plans to start demolition of the site's existing buildings in the next one or two months.
"We’re starting the project very soon," Carr said. "We’re full speed ahead on the development ... We think it will be the highest-quality, most iconic tower Bethesda has ever seen."
The 937K SF development will include 460 residential units and 360K SF of office, plus 15K SF of ground-level retail and a public plaza. The development will sit directly above the Bethesda Purple Line station, which Carr is building for the Maryland Transit Administration.
Construction has been delayed on the light rail since August when U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled in favor of Purple Line opponents and ordered the project be put on hold so the state could recalculate ridership projections in light of Metro's falling numbers.
In December, the Federal Transit Administration told Leon the line would have sufficient ridership despite Metro's woes, which Maryland officials argued should be enough for him to allow the project to proceed. The federal budget deal reached this week included the necessary $125M annual Purple Line payment, contingent on the full $900M funding agreement being signed by September, which would need Leon's go-ahead to occur.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh had asked Leon to rule by April 28, saying the delay was costing taxpayers money, but Leon has yet to make a ruling. Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker held a rally Tuesday calling on Leon to issue a ruling. The rail had been expected to open in 2022, but as of now its fate remains uncertain.
Carr, who threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park last month after raising $60K for Alzheimer's research and running in the Boston Marathon, believes the Apex Building development will be a home run with or without the Purple Line.
He said he hopes the Purple Line comes to fruition for the overall benefit it will bring to the region, but he said the Apex Building project is not dependent on it, especially given the transit accessibility it already has with the Red Line.
"In terms of the impact on our project, we’re indifferent," Carr said. "We’re not tied to the Purple Line. It would be better for our project and for Bethesda, but we’re moving ahead regardless."
The developer is moving forward with plans to build the concrete shell for the Purple Line station, as part of an agreement with the Maryland Transit Administration, whether or not the line actually gets built. Carr is also building a new entrance for the Bethesda Red Line station and a new tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail.
On the block between Carr's Apex Building development and the Bethesda Row retail plaza, JBG is ready to move forward on its mixed-use development at 4747 Bethesda Ave. The two-story retail component, where Dean & Deluca signed on to open a 14K SF gourmet food market, will open later this year.
JBG has begun demolition on the adjacent property to make way for the 14-story office building that will connect to the food market. The developer is waiting for a tenant to sign on before going vertical on the 287K SF building, but it wants to have the site ready to go as soon as a pre-lease is signed.
Sitting a block away from the planned Purple Line station, JBG's project would also benefit from the additional foot traffic the light rail would bring. But like Carr, JBG executive vice president Kristi Smith said its success does not depend on it.
"We would certainly love to have the Purple Line station adjacent to our site, but it’s not a must-have," Smith said. "If we can create a cross-county connection it will be fantastic and add to the overall story, but the fundamentals without it are still great for Bethesda."
JBG also has a 300- to- 400-unit multifamily building planned about half a mile north at 7900 Wisconsin Ave., two blocks from the site Marriott International selected for the development of its new $660M corporate HQ campus.
JBG put the project on hold in 2015 but has recently filed for permits to demolish the existing buildings on the site. Smith said JBG is getting the site ready to move forward with the project, but has not set a timeline for its construction. She could not comment on whether or not it had signed a deal with Trader Joe's, which had been in talks to anchor the development in 2014.
Carr and Smith will both be on hand to discuss their Bethesda developments at Bisnow's Montgomery County State of the Market on Monday in Potomac.