Councilmember Hucker meets with Fenton Village businesses, Transportation & Planning officials

Councilmember Hucker meets with Fenton Village businesses, Transportation & Planning officials

Many merchants in Silver Spring’s Fenton Village have taken a hit from the construction of Studio Plaza, a major new mixed-use project in downtown Silver Spring. The loss of parking spaces, combined with heavy construction equipment and trucks in the streets, is taking its toll, merchants say. They’ll receive help from the county after the County Council’s May 16 sign-off of Councilmember Tom Hucker’s proposal to spend $15,000 to develop a short-term marketing plan to help the businesses weather the construction phase. Final approval is expected on Thursday, 5/25.

The council must “do everything it can to make sure these affected businesses are able to succeed and keep their doors open in Silver Spring,” Hucker said.

Their top need is a marketing plan to raise their visibility and let residents know they’re open for business during construction, he said.

The money will go to the Silver Spring Urban District, which will contract with Silver Spring Inc., a local marketing agency to develop the plan.

Hucker said the county had a particular obligation to help the merchants because the project involves swapping a county surface parking lot in exchange for public spaces in the new 152-space underground garage under construction.

At a meeting in February, several business owners reported that road closures, lack of parking and daily blasting had cut their sales by as much as 30 percent, Hucker said. Work on the project started last summer.

When completed in two years, the 739,553-square-foot, 110-foot-tall complex is expected to have 749 apartments and 114,180 square feet of commercial space, including 36,180 square feet of retail and 78,000 square feet of office space. There will also be public green space. The development is on the block bordered by Silver Spring and Thayer avenues, Fenton Street and Mayor Lane.

The impact of the construction on his business “has been so huge, more than you can imagine,” said Tesega Haile, whose Kaldi’s Social House, an Ethiopian coffee shop and restaurant, has been on Silver Spring Avenue for a little over three years.

He’s particularly feeling the pinch in the morning, he said. Customers who used to park out front and run in to grab a cup of coffee on the go aren’t stopping by as much. There’s a parking garage behind his eatery, but it’s not as convenient, Haile said.

The construction is coming at a tough time for Haile, who recently expanded Kaldi’s, from 1,800 square feet to close to 4,500 square feet, he said. With the expansion came higher rent, plus a 34 percent increase in his payroll for more staff. Yet, his revenues have remained flat.

“In other words, I’m losing,” Haile said.

The new marketing campaign might help, he said, but in the end, “marketing will be in vain without space for parking. Marketing is great, but we need parking.”

Still, Haile sees a silver lining. When Studio Plaza opens, “obviously it will help us somewhat.”

“The line will be going out the door,” he said.

The marketing plan will focus on “leveraging digital channels and direct mail,” said Peter Tan, director of marketing for Silver Spring Inc.

The agency plans to launch a new website featuring the 200 or so businesses in the Fenton Village area. The campaign might also include a scavenger hunt, with the website containing clues that would lead people to various businesses.

Ideally, Tan said, the campaign’s target would extend beyond the Central Business District into nearby areas such as Wheaton and possibly neighborhoods just over the D.C. line.