Wednesday, June 05, 2013

United Therapeutics Continues to Spread Through Silver Spring like a Welcome, Aesthetically-Pleasing Cancer

Over the past few years United Therapeutics has significantly expanded its footprint in downtown Silver Spring, though as its campus sits at the fringes of the Silver Spring CBD, you might never notice. They clearly design for an audience, and have one of the cooler public spaces in town - a large plaza featuring a giant TV screen with a cool double-helix skybridge looking down on it.


Now Unither is trying to outo itself with a new office building planned for the corner of Colesville and Spring Streets. Once built, the thousands of drivers entering downtown Silver Spring via Colesville each day will be greeted by a large ultra-modern spaceship-like building rather than a disused parking garage. The new structure will replace the crumbling Garage 21, which United Therapeutics purchased from the county last year.


The building will serve as a workspace for about 150 employees and is as planned as a net zero structure, meaning all energy used will be produced on-site, primarily via the solar arrays positioned on its roof and elsewhere around the building.


It will include ground-level retail and landscaped public areas, hopefully drawing more pedestrians to the surrounding streets. There will also be a new pedestrian walkway (to be dubbed the "BioPath") that will run along the edge of the building and connect Colesville and Cameron streets.


Of course, many grandiose plans around here don't ultimately come to fruition. Remember when the Chelsea School commissioned Studio Daniel Liebskind to design a replacement for their aging campus? That was bold, but unrealistic. Eventually they just sold out to developers, which was probably the logical thing to do in their case.
 

Even more modest proposals often get significantly changed (for the worse) before any ground is broken. For example, here's the original 2008 proposal for a residential building at 814 Thayer Avenue. Like it or not, at least it's distinctive.


 And here's the current, watered-down proposal - a nondescript generic structure. *Yawn*


This particular development has mirrored the glacial pace of a lot of other local projects, as the existing office building at that address was purchased way back in 2006 and still stands empty today.

Of course the difference in United Therapeutics' case is that the building is for them and they need not worry about things like vacancy rates and price per square foot. If they have the money, they can do whatever they damn please. I'm really glad that someone is building new office space rather than more apartments.

I can't even envision The Community fighting this one, though one should never underestimate the power of the Dark Side.

Thanks to JT for forwarding me these plans!



26 comments:

Anonymous said...

So. Effing. Cool.

I thought UniTher originally said the latest expansion wouldn't occur until well down the road (like in a decade)? Anyone know if that's changed? One would think they wouldn't bother having community meetings and releasing renderings if they weren't planning on building within the next few years....
We're really lucky to have a co. that cares so much about design (exceedingly rare in the DC area), not to mention environmentally friendly buildings. So awesome.

Anonymous said...

AWSOME!!! Not all rich developers put up schlock!

The Thayer building is funny, anything to aver the eyes of the Silver Spring Towers building across the street.

G. Money said...

Re: the first commenter, maybe Unither's just getting started on the process now because the average Silver Spring resident now has the expectation that every development project will take at least ten years.

Unither's founder is a real visionary. Glad to see them expanding their footprint.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

I drive Spring Street past United Theraputics several times a week. I love those buildings. They're pretty, interesting, and bring life to an aging part of DTSS. The garage it sounds like they'd be replacing is an eyesore and underused. Bravo, replace it with a pretty, well used building that brings in people and tax dollars.

Anonymous said...

Damn Sligo, it looks like you read the entire PDF I sent you! Good reporting, though, distilling down to the most important details "the community" would want to know (not THE community, who might fight this).

JT.

Anonymous said...

Part 2: from what I can tell, the entire first floor fronting Spring St. and Colesville Rd. will be retail and/or restaurant space.

JT

Robert said...

It is extremely unlikely that "the community" will oppose this project. Woodside Park, which is the nearest residential neighborhood, has a very good relationship with United Therapeutics and views the project favorably.

It should also be noted that United Therapeutics has been great about working not only to open but to improve pedestrian access from Woodside Park through a parking lot it own to Cameron Court.

Anonymous said...

But that parking lot is historic!

Anonymous said...

I wonder what will happen when Unither tries to redevelop the properties they own on the north side of Spring Street. These properties back up to Woodside Park and are likely not part of the CBD. Will Woodside Park support redevelopment with similar structures? Kind of a moot point now since nothing has been publicly proposed, but at the rate Unither is growing, it will only be a matter of time.

Robert said...

From the post: "[United Therapeutics] clearly design for an audience, and have one of the cooler public spaces in town - a large plaza featuring a giant TV screen with a cool double-helix skybridge looking down on it."

Ah, yes, the "cool double-helix skybridge. It's an architectural asset to Silver Spring.

But why can't we have a similar "bridge of books" from new Silver Spring library under construction on Wayne Avenue to the parking garage across the street? Besides being an architectural asset, such a bridge would serve the public, especially the handicapped and families with small children.

Sligo said...

Re: "I wonder what will happen when Unither tries to redevelop the properties they own on the north side of Spring Street."

This is actually addressed in the Q&A portion planning document. They claim they have no plans to develop those spaces, as the existing buildings meet their needs.

Anonymous said...

But why can't we have a similar "bridge of books" from new Silver Spring library under construction on Wayne Avenue to the parking garage across the street? Besides being an architectural asset, such a bridge would serve the public, especially the handicapped and families with small children

Mmmmmmmmmeeeeeemmmmoooorrrriiiiiieeesss, like the corners of my mind.

Sligo said...

Because all the already-nonexistent money for the $800K+ library bridge has been used for the Transit Center.

Anonymous said...

I'd LOVE if UniTher was able to grab that pepco substation to their immediate south and adjacent surface lot and redevel. I'd imagine that's wishful thinking that pepco could/would give up the space.

"But why can't we have a similar "bridge of books" from new Silver Spring library"
PLEASE say you're joking. A private company paying to connect their two private buildings is not even in the same realm as the public wasting $700,000 so a handful of people can avoid walking across a street from a garage to a library. Please say you're just making a joke. If you want to personally pay the $700K on a bridge THEN we can discuss the aesthetic and practical ramifications of bridging over such a large street.

Sligo said...

It should also be noted that the county did build a new crosswalk across Wayne. This makes it substantially easier to cross from the parking garage to the library side of the street. I know it makes going to restaurants on that side of the street more appealing.

Anonymous said...

The PDF you pulled from, Sligo, didn't have any sort of timeline attached to it? No one attended the first meeting held on the issue and can speak to what UniTher is thinking as far as how many years down the line we're talking? Hopefully 1-3 and not 7-10....

007 said...

I read the pdf project plan for this project a few weeks ago and was definitely impressed. This is exactly the type of new development dt Silver Spring needs: more office space, more high-paying jobs, more great-looking architecture. The project should also serve as a catalyst for more development/jobs in dtSS. According to the project plan the building is 90ft tall and will have a commanding presence on Colesville.

I really admire United Therapeutics (as well as Discovery) for their commitment to downtown Silver Spring. Other companies with such deep pockets and well-paying jobs would have moved to Bethesda Northern VA by now.

As for the building schedule, if they hit the ground running groundbreaking could be as soon as next year.

This project has several advantages over most other development in the area:
- Unither already owns the property
- there's no nearby residential neighborhoods to oppose (as others have mentioned)
- they don't have to wait around to sign tenants (a HUGE obstacle to commercial development in MoCo)
- given the lavish, futuristic, no-expenses- spared nature of their current HQ (not to mention the proposed design itself) they're clearly rolling in $$$$$ so financing shouldn't be an issue
- the County/Planning Board (if they're smart) should jump at the idea of more commercial space and jobs in SS and should make a clear path to approval

Assuming, everything works like clockwork (and it won't, since this is Mont. Co.) project plan approval could happen by this fall, preliminary/site plan approval by late winter/early spring, permits approved by mid-summer, and groundbreaking before back-to-school. Of course all of this is assuming that UniTher wants the building now...

Anonymous said...

UniTher currently has a Silver Spring job posting for a corporate real estate project manager who would "provid[e] strategic planning and project development services, including architectural studies, programming, design, construction and associated infrastructure and technological upgrades, for new structures and renovations to existing structures."

Hopefully that's a sign they're looking to build sooner rather than later!

Terry in Silver Spring said...

"Anonymous said...
But that parking lot is historic!"

As well as being skeevy as heck inside.

Anonymous said...

A "welcome, aesthetically-pleasing cancer?" How about some editorial sensitivity? Cancer is never welcome and for many it's deadly. This is a grossly inadequate analogy.

Sligo said...

Of course not - it was simply a reference to their line of work...

Gull said...

The pre-submission meeting UT held said they didn't plan to break ground I believe until the very end of 2014 or early 2015 and they were not looking to occupy the space until the end of 2016 start of 2017 time period. They also said they really encourage teleworking and a lot of their 'corporate' employees that would otherwise work out of Silver Spring instead live all over the Country wherever they feel like living, minimizing the need to keep expanding space with every new hired employee.

Rebecca said...

This looks AWESOME. I live in the apartment building across the street and would love to see this built as shown. United Therapeutics is an asset to DTSS, and the county should approve these plans ASAP.

Anonymous said...

Will the new UT development have public parking? The old parking garage is creepy - but when the new garages are filled there was always a space there. Never thought I would mourn the loss of ugly parking garages but they way the county is selling them to the developers there will only be the two new ugly ones left in DTSS.

Anonymous said...

I'd assume/hope not. That garage has long since been condemned and only allows for a handful of spaces on the ground floor. Its loss is negligible. Not to mention there are massive public garages on basically every block surrounding this one. Hopefully, as DTSS becomes built out we'll be able to turn those lots into actual, usable space.

Isayaah Parker said...

The building rendering is strange. different is good but this looks little like an office bldg and more like an alien museum. its amazing that garage has festered all this time. wish theyd developed this before the other buildings. silver spring has way too many parking garages. i still wonder the fate of the old library