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Marketing Communities
Putting on a New Face for Downtown Silver Spring
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Silver Spring Urban District, Montgomery County, Maryland 

Situation:

   Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland – once a crown jewel of commerce in the greater Washington area – was at a crucial crossroads. After three decades of decline and disappointment with business leaders declaring the town center DOA and the Washington Post pleading for CPR for its fading heart, a miracle was about to happen.

Warring factions about Silver Spring future – historic preservationists, key developers, and local residents among them – put down their proverbial swords and spears, picked up their plowshares, and started building a solid foundation for a new beginning.

Giving heart was Maryland’s and Montgomery County’s new investment in revitalization, studies confirming strong demographics and market potential, a nationally acclaimed high school, the success of one of the region’s biggest mass transit hubs, and the enduring faith of people living in the surrounding "greenbelt" of beautiful neighborhoods.

Yet, shadows of Silver Spring’s demise haunted the future. Misperceptions continued to cloud the town’s image:

  • Silver Spring is dead or dying and can never regain its former glory as a shopping mecca.                
  • Silver Spring cannot attract or support high-quality or retail or restaurants.                
  • Silver Spring cannot fill its office buildings with "image" tenants.                
  • Silver Spring is crime-ridden, drug-infested, and unsafe – particularly after dark.

Approach:

Potomac Incorporated won a three-year contract to help Silver Spring tell a confident story of its assets that would begin to attract first-class businesses, customers, clients, and families to its streets; create decent jobs; stimulate housing projects in the central business district (CBD); inspire the cultural arts; and capitalize on its excellent mass transit, fine schools, rich civic life, and sound economic underpinnings.

Working with the Silver Spring Urban District and its Advisory Committee comprised of business leaders and local citizens, Potomac aimed to put a new face on this community that would radiate throughout the region.

Potomac publicized the launching of the friendly Silver Spring Service Corps, young people who act as "ambassadors of good will" to help stranded motorists, deter crime, serve as "buddy escorts," and act as the "eyes and ears of the police." Their introduction onto the streets of Silver Spring gained prominent coverage in the Washington Post, Washington Times and local newspapers. Three television stations ran positive stories and radio stations WMAL and WTOP featured drive-time pieces. We also focused stories and events about the Silver Spring Urban Crew – other young men and women who beautify the downtown with seasonal plantings and continual cleanups.

Potomac teamed with the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce to produce a lively "Fall Festival," introducing children’s entertainment and the first running of the Holy Cross Hospital Silver Springer 10K race and 5K fun/run walk.

   We promoted the more-popular-than-ever Dasher, the free seasonal shopper shuttle.

Working with AT&T and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we launched "health routes" so that local employees could use these walking/jogging trails that connect Silver Spring’s downtown to Rock Creek, Sligo and other scenic parks.

First Night Montgomery got its start in downtown Silver Spring. Our president, Keith Haller, solicited business sponsorships to help ensure its early success.


We produced and distributed handy restaurant guides to bring people into the downtown.

Our first-ever Movie Madness series brought classic Halloween flicks to an outdoor screen, once again bringing life to Silver Spring’s main streets after dark.

 When Progress Place opened its doors to house Silver Spring Community Vision and the Shepherd’s Table, Potomac pitched in (pro bono) to help inaugurate the multi-service day center for the homeless. Community Vision is a nationally recognized model program featuring emergency services, meals, job training, daily work groups, peer support and counseling.  

 

   We organized the Summer Concert Series, as it evolved into a hugely successful community event. Concertgoers reported that the series was "great," "a gift to the community," and the venue was "charming." Potomac arranged for a weekly community tie-in so that concertgoers would become acquainted with the best of Silver Spring. High-quality entertainers, scripted programs, delectable food vendors and weekly raffles for dozens of free prizes offered by first-rate restaurants and businesses added to the festivities of this hallmark concert series. Potomac publicized the concerts with full-color brochures distributed door-to-door to surrounding neighborhoods, local schools and as a Washington Post insert. We advertised in the Post, City Paper, Gazette newspapers and Montgomery Journal.

"Putting on a New Face," a full-color tabloid brochure about downtown revitalization was distributed area-wide and received praise from Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendening.

Outcome:

The renaissance is underway. Discovery Communications is moving its headquarters to downtown Silver Spring, spurring a new production industry dubbed "Hollywood East." The refurbished Silver Theatre will house the American Film Institute. Fresh Fields, Border’s Books and Strosnider’s hardware store are being constructed across from the concert site. Townhouses are up in the heart of the town center. And so are real estate values throughout the community. Grade A office space is scarce. A community center is planned, and so is a grand hotel. MARC trains will soon arrive at the Silver Spring Transitway, alongside Metro, Ride On, and taxicabs.

New restaurants are popping up. Blair High School has a brand new home.

The popular concert series lives on. It remains a big draw for people from throughout the greater Washington area.

Dasher, the holiday shopper shuttle, is now a free daily bus for downtown employees and residents.

First Night Montgomery is well established. It’s expected to return to downtown Silver Spring, when the dust settles from the building boom.

The Silver Spring Service Corps and Urban Crew continue to do good deeds.

The buzz is on…Silver Spring is the hot new town. The image is steadily improving.

Watch this space!

 

 

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