Negotiations for Arts Center at New Silver Spring Library Fall Through

The Montgomery County Council is looking for new tenants to occupy space at the new Silver Spring library after years of negotiations with a local arts center fell through.

Pyramid Atlantic Art Center Executive Director Jose Dominguez says the non-profit spent five years trying to iron out the details of the lease with the council because it was his intent to move in to the new library at the intersection of Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street.

“[The council] had been telling us, ‘Oh this is going to work out, it’s going to be fine, we think it’s great,’ so my organization had been moving forward with that in mind,” Dominguez said.

The contract included Pyramid’s use of 15,500 square feet of the library, set aside for an arts-oriented initiative for county residents, Council member George Leventhal said. In return, Pyramid would provide free community arts programming.

Dominguez says while it was a great idea, he expected a challenging transition, adding that the non-profit would have to pay $1.3 million to finish building out the arts space in the library. Part of the money would come from the sale of his current Georgia Avenue location.

Five years after initial talks to partner with the library, the politics involved pushed him to pull out of the negotiations, Dominguez said.

“We received an email from the county council … essentially telling us that the county council would be voting against us receiving the lease and … that really made us stop,” Dominguez said.

Council member Leventhal said the council could not move forward with leasing the new space to Pyramid even though County Executive Isiah Leggett approved of the area’s use.

For the council to proceed with the lease, it would have to call a “declaration of no further need,” which would formalize the county’s giving-up of the space it owns to another tenant for a period of time, Leventhal said.

“Because the County Council was not satisfied that we understood exactly how the space would be occupied, we did not vote for the declaration of no further need. We voted ‘no,’ but we are going to continue to work with the executive branch,” Leventhal said.

Among the ambiguities were the terms of the cost-neutral rent, the policies surrounding utility payments and how subleases would be handled.

Now that the Silver Spring-based arts center has ended further negotiations, the county is allowing for other potential tenants to show interest in occupying the available library space, Leventhal said.

“We want a lively arts presence that will be consistent with the mission of the library to serve the public and give people an opportunity to see and learn and experience the arts,” he said.

Renovations are scheduled for Pyramid Atlantic’s current location, pushing the arts center to sell its space and move out of Silver Spring altogether. Dominguez said he hopes to stay close and is looking at spaces in Hyattsville, Wheaton and Kensington.

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