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November 24, 2010  
 
 
CITY ON THE WATER

Coming Up: First Annual Bisnow Multifamily Summit, December 9. Bisnow Retail Summit, December 14. Check out our whole events page (even things to go to in December if you’re in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, or Los Angeles).

 

We’ve always wanted to play to the balconies and got our chance yesterday at the splendid new Arena Stage, where 500 of you packed two levels of the Kreeger Theatre for our Bisnow Breakfast & Schmooze on the Future of Southwest, DC, the first conference held since the venue’s $130 million facelift (and it’s so beautiful they obviously also threw in an eyebrow lift and tummy tuck).

 

One theme that quickly became apparent is the intention to reorient the whole of Washington, via its SW quadrant, to the water. DC “starchitect” Shalom Baranes gave an erudite history of how urban planners of the '50's chose a modernist vision of towers, green areas, and parking at grade instead of Pierre L’Enfant’s original idea of connecting the city’s downtown core to the water, thus limiting vibrant pedestrian and retail-oriented street life. (Although Shalom endorsed some continuing experimentation that departs from L'Enfant's plan.)

 
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PN Hoffman’s Monty Hoffman described the centerpiece of coming SW projects, the 26 acre Waterfront redevelopment his firm's doing in partnership with Madison Marquette. The Potomac riverfront covered by their plans is two-thirds of a mile long, compared to the Georgetown frontage near Sequoia of only 200 feet. To manage such a big project, he says his team has 42 separate consultants, and joked it needs another: a therapist. And with so many regulatory agencies involved in the process, Monty’s concerned about overplanning; he says it’s “like with golf or a teenager, the harder you try, the worse it gets.” He also said, “We’re not trying to be National Harbor,” ie, he wants to create an area for residents, not tourists.
 
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Forest City Washington president Debby Ratner Salzberg described her firm’s redevelopment of the old Waterside Mall at Fourth and Maine into the new Waterfront Station, where they’ve completed 600k SF of office and 85k of retail, and have two residential buildings and another 700k of office planned. She sees SW near Arena and the Metro as an area already dramatically changed and predicts a live/work/play area in the next few years to rival what’s happened in Penn Quarter.

Trammell Crow local development chief Tom Finan, and Arent Fox legal expert Debra Yogodzinski. Tom’s firm has completed the three phase, 1M SF Patriot’s Plaza office complex, which has become a GSA enclave that was relatively quick to lease up even though it started as a spec project. They incorporated “force protection” standards and built Phases II and III to LEED Gold in 2009, then went back and brought Phase I (completed 2005) up to LEED Silver.

DC Director of Planning Harriet Tregoning recounted more recent history of SW, starting when Mayor Williams initiated the effort to recognize the under-used waterfront. For the past 10 years, the city’s planning goals have been to encourage mixed-use development that will be pedestrian-oriented, provide access to the river, take advantage of multi-modal transit, and preserve the “funkiness” and areas of green that she said give SW a unique charm. But she says the abundance of large office users is a challenge, as is bringing in more residential population; she said the area had 43k people 60 years ago, compared to 23k now, due to smaller-sized households.

 

Jones Lang LaSalle broker-guru Joe Brennan raised questions about federal plans with GSA Associate Commissioner Desa Sealy, who pointed out that the federal government has five cabinet level agencies headquartered in SW and reminded the audience of the 1.1M SF DHS solicitation that’s out on the street. When asked about making SW a cultural destination, she said they’d like to get people walking from the National Mall down 10th Street toward the water, and that they're therefore working on SW locations for a Navy Museum and Museum of Women’s History.

 

JBG’s Britt Snider brought us up to date on his firm’s renovation and expansion of L’Enfant Plaza.  They see this as a low risk investment, since the location is “like Connecticut and K” for the GSA. He said they’ve already introduced a lot more light into the area and that they’ll be starting the second phase of retail renovation in early 2011, adding a huge atrium in the middle of the plaza and hoping to draw people off the Mall. It won’t be just an “8 am to 6 pm environment” anymore, he said. 

 

Since we had a minor glitch with PowerPoint and Britt didn’t get to show all his slides, we thought we’d share this eye-catching rendering with you now. He says JBG has about 1M SF of unused FAR at L’Enfant Plaza, and SmithGroup has designed both an extended stay hotel and this 650k SF office building. He said it certainly fits the “funky, modernist” architecture theme that Harriet mentioned.

 

DC Councilmember Tommy Wells explained what he looks for when the city considers development partners for major projects, saying sustainability issues are at the forefront but that he also seek development that will provide spaces that match the lifestyle choices of the type of workers and residents who are coming to the city. But he cautioned that DC's not immune to the economic downturn that has challenged municipalities across the country, and that some of the money that’s been available to jump start large projects in years past is no longer in the coffers.

 

We were delighted to have in the audience Sid Bresler, right, whose parents Fleur and Charles helped develop SW starting in the 40’s and at one time were the largest property owner there. We brought up a mic and asked him some of his family’s memories and perspectives. With him were his wife and three kids (including Alex here). We plum forgot to get a picture, so are reprising this one we took back at our Real Estate Summit in March. Take our word, they don’t look any older today.   

 
Thanks as always to our sponsor and friends from Admiral Security and Red Coats (here are reps George Vincent, Page Wells Pollock, Glenn Compton, and Heath Chilcoate). Admiral has 2,500 employees providing human security, supplementing its sister company DataWatch's electronic security. Another affiliate, Red Coats, has 4,800 employees working around the clock (especially at night behind the scenes while you’re sleeping) in a six state area keeping the a whole lot of office buildings spic and span. Thanks to them for all they do for the commercial real estate community.
 

We even had a contest for a lunch for two at the great Equinox restaurant and a Bisnow "(almost) Never Boring" umbrella. The winner, Prince Georges Economic Development Director Kwasi Holman, who correctly answered this question: “Owing to its strategic location at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, Southwest Washington, DC has a long and storied history. The land, which was first populated by Native Americans including the Powhatan and Manahoc tribes, was mapped by what English explorer in 1608?” Kwasi correctly identified the English explorer from these choices: (1) John Smith; (2) Shalom Smith; and (3) Debby Ratner Salzberg Smith. He obviously came to the conference well prepared, and we congratulate him, as did that smiling crowd behind him.

 
 
 
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