Fillmore On The Eastern Front

A Fillmore, a place that isn’t The Birchmere and a building I.M.P. chief Seth Hurwitz wants. The "Jeopardy" question: What is a former J.C. Penney building in Silver Spring, Md.?

Montgomery County announced September 26th that it has signed, as expected, a letter of intent with Live Nation to develop the building into a Fillmore-branded music venue as part of a larger entertainment complex in the Washington, D.C., suburb.

Live Nation emerged as a suitor for the space after the county announced it had ended talks with The Birchmere, of Annapolis, to build a new club there.

But shed no tears for The Birchmere. The same day Live Nation was announcing its Silver Spring Fillmore, the University of Maryland in nearby College Park revealed it has made a deal with The Birchmere to build and operate a 500-seat, on-campus music hall.

But not everyone walked away happy. Hurwitz, who delivered a letter of interest in the Silver Spring property to county officials the day before the announcement of the award to Live Nation, questions how the deal came about, citing $8 million in public grant money behind the development.

Though it was public knowledge that talks ended between county officials and those representing The Birchmere for the building two months ago, Hurwitz insists he was led to believe there was no rush to make another deal.

"All of a sudden, it’s ‘now we have a deal,’" Hurwitz told Pollstar. "There was no communication from the county, no request for proposals, nothing to indicate they were taking proposals. How am I too late? I’m a resident of Montgomery County, a taxpayer, and would like to have been considered."

In addition to Hurwitz’s letter of interest, state and county officials find themselves being grilled about $8 million in grants earmarked for the music venue, including $2 million the state reportedly offered on the understanding that The Birchmere would bring a club to the Silver Spring site. Construction costs are estimated at $10 million.

Montgomery Executive Isiah Leggett told the Washington Post that the money belongs to the county, regardless of who builds the venue. But Douglas Duncan – Leggett’s immediate predecessor who coincidentally now works for the University of Maryland – disagrees.

"I view it as the state keeping its word," Duncan told the paper.

"That seems pretty outlandish that someone would make that case," Leggett reportedly said at a press conference.

The competing interpretations pits Montgomery and Prince George’s counties against each other, and centers on the wording of a line in the state budget, according to the Post. The University of Maryland is located in Prince George’s county.

It wasn’t certain at press time which way the controversies would lead, but what is certain is that music fans in the region can expect at least two new music halls and more competition for shows to fill them, as well as other venues in the market including Hurwitz’s 9:30 Club in Washington.

Montgomery County and Live Nation inked the letter of intent to construct a Fillmore in an existing structure preserving the façade but building a modern structure behind it. The theatre will be part of a Silver Spring revitalization project that includes two historic movie theatres. It’s expected that the American Film Institute and Discovery Communications headquarters will use the adaptable facilities as well, according to a statement from the county.

At the University of Maryland, a Birchmere will emerge in a section of the university’s East Campus redevelopment.

Duncan, the former county executive who is now the university VP of administrative affairs, spent five years trying to broker the Silver Spring deal with The Birchmere but found on-campus success in closing a deal.

"Our goal with the East Campus development is to give the community more entertainment, retail and restaurant options, and The Birchmere will be a key part in this effort," Duncan told the Washington Times.

Birchmere owner Gary Oelze could not be reached at press time.