Can a retail center be so successful at reinvigorating a town that, 20 years after it first opened, it has to remake itself to catch up with what it accomplished?
That is the unique story of Peterson Companies and Silver Spring, Md. The popular Washington, D.C., suburb had gone through a bad patch in the 70s and 80s. Its downtown had become run-down. A mall was suggested, but town leaders rejected it.
“They wanted the grocery store, the movie theater, the restaurants. They wanted to re-create the heart of the community,” said Paul Weinschenk, Peterson’s president of retail. “It worked. It enlivened the town and drew a whole new group of residents. But it was a lot of conservative beige.”
So Peterson re-made Downtown Silver Spring, but not with new tenants. Remaining are the 350,000 sq. ft. Ellsworth Place mall, the Ace Hardware, and the restaurants including Red Lobster and the Copper Canyon Grill. What was new was a wash of color and art.
A 300-ft.-long street mural inspired by sound and electricity waves zig-zags across Ellsworth Drive, now lined with bistro tables and shade umbrellas. A 20-foot- high flower-tower titled “The Queen of Blooms” has transformed an elevator tower showing a silhouette of a woman in a colorful headdress. A busy pedestrian center has been covered with “Silver Spring Walls”—three building murals executed by artists James Bullough and 1010.
Perhaps the most distinctive piece of art is Blumen Lumen, a 25-foot-tall sculpture of folded, stainless steel flowers that open and close as the sun rises and sets and, at night, are capable of reacting to human voices.
“The downtown we created 20 years ago was right for the community then,” Weinschenk said. “But the community today is different, even more diverse, and this festive, colorful, art-driven space is right for what Silver Spring is now. Everybody gets it.”
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