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Cinema makes retail “possible” in Wisconsin development

Consistent with years-long discussions, a mixed-use development on Wisconsin Avenue will include a movie theater, according to plans filed with the Montgomery County Planning Department.

Bethesda developer Starr Capital has proposed a plan at 7000 Wisconsin Ave. that includes 200 residences and up to 15,000 square feet of retail space, about 4,000 of which would be dedicated to a movie theater.

Starr has been contemplating the project for at least two years, since Regal Cinemas closed in downtown Bethesda.

Because the project includes plans for the theater and 17.6 percent affordable housing, the building will stand 132 feet tall, about 22 feet taller than the area’s zoning would allow under normal circumstances.

As the County Council finalized the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan – guidelines for development in the area – members decided to raise the height limit at the property by 10 feet to 120 feet to provide more room for the movie screens. Dedicating more than 17.5 percent of housing units as affordable housing allows an additional 12 feet of height.

Bob Dalrymple, attorney for the project, said there isn’t a specific user or design for the theater yet.

On the property now is a single-story retail building with a Mattress Firm and martial arts studio with about 15 parking space.

The sketch plan includes an underground parking garage with 120 parking spaces and also provides public open space to “break up the massing of this block,” according to Planning Department documents.

“I think the southern part of the Bethesda business district needs some more life, and this project will really help bring about that 18 hour living environment we’re all hoping for,” Dalrymple said. “It will be a real shot in the arm to downtown Bethesda, but specifically the southern portion of downtown.”

County officials have voiced concern about new projects in Bethesda that don’t include a retail component, saying the city needs to ensure it is growing both the housing market and tax base. In February, developers proposed a large-scale project at 4 Bethesda Metro Center that is solely residential and other developers have said providing retail in Bethesda is not viable.

But Starr Capital hopes to break the mold, Dalrymple said.

“Retail becomes successful when there are more people and this project will bring more people in, more legs to the street, more eyes to the entirety of the area,” he said. “It’s a real healthy thing for that part of Bethesda.”

Source: Bethesda Magazine

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