The tug of war over the future of Bethesda’s Apex Building will continue Thursday, when planning staff responds to the reluctant owner of the building that is subject to Purple Line Station redevelopment.
On Nov. 7, a top official from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which owns the building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave., said selling the building or razing it doesn’t seem worth it, even with the additional density the owners would get in exchange.
County and state officials want to raze the building in order to build a more expansive Bethesda Purple Line Station below it. Officials say the default station planned for construction under the existing building wouldn’t include a Capital Crescent Trail Tunnel, connection to the Red Line on the same side of Elm Street and would have a cramped track platform.
But ASHP Senior Vice President and COO David Witmer told the Planning Board the complexity of the preferred Purple Line Station design would hamper the economic potential of a redeveloped Apex Building, especially on the first floor.
Planning staff will respond by pointing out the additional foot traffic and increased property values it says will come with an estimated 15,000 daily riders at the station:
Staff appreciates the complexity of integrating a transit station and associated equipment, a circulation core for a second transit station, a new trail tunnel, and a new building on an urban site. Such an effort requires significant coordination and will impact the building design, particularly of the ground floor. The primary goal of the plan is to implement an improved station design to deliver a higher quality user experience for the high expected ridership than the current default design. Staff expects the joint redevelopment envisioned by the plan to buoy commercial interests in and around the Plan area by increasing property values and bringing more foot traffic through the area. To incentivize this redevelopment, the Plan recommends the maximum density available in this zone.
The back-and-forth negotiations on razing the building aren’t surprising. An economic study commissioned by the Planning Department found giving the ASHP more density in exchange for razing the building likely wouldn’t be enough to offset financial losses. That study found $5 million to $10 million of public money could be required to entice the group to sell or redevelop the building.
Also of concern for the ASHP is a fast-approaching deadline. The Maryland Transit Administration has said it wants a decision on the future of the Apex Building by early next year, so it knows which Bethesda Purple Line Station to include in final plans to submit to federal transit officials.