January 20, 2015

Bethesda Row Back in Action

Wars, famine, pestilence—none of that seems to compare to lack of parking spaces. Finally, not only is Woodmont Avenue between Wisconsin and Barnes & Noble open again as of this morning for traffic (after being closed almost three years due to massive construction across the street), but the number of parking spaces has been tripled. Glory be!

Here's Stonebridge Carras principal Doug Firstenberg, left, with team members from his company and partners PN Hoffman and Clark Construction as they show us 960 shiny new public spaces in the "Capital Crescent Garage," all in four levels underground. And this coming May, Doug says, The Big Dig at Lot 31 will be history as 162 apartments ($2k/month for a studio to $5k for two bedroom and den) and 88 condos ($900k to $2M for the remaining units) deliver.

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And here's an historic shot from this morning of a pioneering car traveling on that stretch of Woodmont for the first time in two years. You own car will soon be ferrying you to new shops and restaurants the project's bringing in: Pottery Barn and Pottery Barn Kids; Paul Bakery; a new bistro concept from Silver Diner; Passion Fish; and Chop't. Stonebridge and Hoffman first responded to an RFP for this site 11 years ago, then with the help of capital partners Northwest Mutual and Buvermo started construction on the 3.5 acres in the spring of '12. Doug sees this as “finishing Bethesda Row”: He says Federal Realty did "an amazing job" at the other end near Arlington Road, and this puts “an exclamation mark" at what he calls "Main and Main" (aka Bethesda Ave and Woodmont). Perhaps the most exciting news of all? Parking will be free in the new garage until March 1.

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Exclusive: Monday's Big Leases

Monday Properties has kicked off the year with three big wins in Rosslyn. Renowned entrepreneur Cobro Ventures signed a 6k SF lease at 1000 Wilson Blvd, one of Rosslyn's trophy “Twin Towers.” Monday regional director John Wharton (right, with colleague Deniz Yener) says Cobro will move in Q2 from Bethesda, where it considered expanding. John, who worked with JLL on the deal, says the founders were hooked by the views and the growing talent pool in Rosslyn. The electric charging stations in the garage also helped. (Both founders drive electric cars.) Monday COO Tim Helmig says he rarely meets business partners with the vision of Cobro founders Alain and Marc Cohen. Trained as engineers and technologists, they've launched companies like Acetylon Pharmaceuticals and Opnet, which sold for a cool billion dollars.

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Monday has also snagged Washington Free Beacon, an online political media company, which took 8k SF on the 26th floor of 1000 Wilson Blvd. (This is the stunning view from the 31st.) The company will move in Q2 from another part of Arlington. John says it needed easy access to Metro so its reporters could get to the Hill quickly. It comes on the heels of Monday's Rosslyn deal last year with Politico, which took 70k SF at 1100 Wilson Blvd.

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Monday also recently signed a new 10-year lease in 1000 Wilson with Riveron Consulting. The Dallas-based financial firm doubled its space to 10k SF. JLL associate director Kevin Brant, who represented Riveron, says Rosslyn has been getting more attention from tenants looking for space because of new office product being built there, and the arrival of more amenities (like this car charging station) and restaurants. John says Monday is working on several more leases for multiple floors in Rosslyn and expects to announce them in the next 30 to 60 days. He says the momentum comes after two rough leasing years in the DC economy, and as Rosslyn transitions from an aerospace and defense hub to a market for high-growth companies with young talent.

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Titan of Townhouses

23 years ago, "infill townhomes" seemed like an oxymoron. Near public transportation and urban activity? Who wanted that? 4,600 homes later, a firm devoted to that mission has helped spawn a movement. Everything seems to be out in the open at Bethesda-based EYA, including COO/CFO Frank Connors at his desk and SVP Jack Lester. Frank, who'd been at Arthur Andersen and Rouse, joined the firm in 1992, just three months after the guys in its name, Terry Eakin and Bob Youngentob, started it. Bob and Terry had worked together at Holladay Corp doing industrial and apartments—Terry was a senior partner and Bob a recent HBS grad. Frank became the Third Man, handling back office finance and ops. Today they're a cadre of 88 in the office and field, doing everything from zoning, land development, architecture, and GC duties, to procurement, sales and marketing.

This pedestrian signal could be the logo of EYA, whose motto (on the whole flip side of their business cards) is “Life within walking distance.” Their original business plan: 200 for-sale townhomes a year within the Beltway, which on average they've hit, though it's ranged from 80 to 340 depending on the economy. And while they've done some work in Rockville and Tysons, and are looking at Reston (since these places have an urban flavor), Frank says, “You'll never see us in a suburban location where you're faced with long commutes" and dependent on a car.

The tie-dye trio (here at their 20th anniversary three years ago) was based in Rosslyn their first 13 years because they loved the view from the USA Today building's 27th floor. That made the leasing agent of their 1,800 SF a young man named Anthony Westreich (today CEO of Monday Properties), who was recently out of college and learning the business at his dad's company, Westfield, which owned the building. Anthony introduced them to Stanley Westreich, who with other partners became their longtime equity partner (replacing an earlier Japanese source). In '05, the company moved to downtown Bethesda to meet growing space needs. As Stanley exited active investment, EYA turned in '08 to JBG, where Bob once worked after HBS. Today they have a standing term sheet and have created LLCs for more than half a dozen projects.

EYA's demographic target is largely a barbell: empty nesters and young professionals. Upcoming projects are illustrative: Opening next month, 153 homes are slated for Grosvenor Heights near the Strathmore Metro in Bethesda, where elevators will be standard, and 2,500 to 3,400 SF is priced $1.1M to $1.5M. Montgomery Row at Rock Spring, around the corner from Montgomery Mall, will be 168 townhomes, 1,700 to 2,600 SF, and priced $800k to $1M. (EYA got the area rezoned from office.) And opening in April, Westside at Shady Grove Metro will be 407 townhomes, priced from the 600s and also including 40k SF of retail.

In the queue: Architect Shalom Baranes is designing luxury condos and townhomes for the old Robinson Terminal (rendered here) in Old Town, which the Washington Post used for decades as a newsprint warehouse. In the District, Lessard Design is working with EYA on 146 units at McMillan Reservoir. All this while EYA's closing out 137 townhomes in the Mosaic District; 60 condos at Oronoco in Old Town; 63 townhomes at Chelsea Heights in downtown Silver Spring; 30 luxury townhomes at Little Falls Place along the Capital Crescent Train in Bethesda; first phases of Capitol Quarter townhouses near Nats Ballpark; and the final townhomes of Old Town Commons, a five-city-block mixed-income development done in partnership with ARHA near Braddock Metro in Old Town.

Company culture and community involvement is important: EYA has created a foundation and encourages its employees to contribute time. Here they are at “Byte Back,” a DC nonprofit that provides computer and job training to the underserved.

We reached back into our own Archives and found an early Bisnow interview with co-founder Bob Youngetob nearly nine years ago, where he explained the attitudes and values they were seeking to foster. One of them is that their employees should make sure to have fun and work-life balance. Bob is himself a Comcast SportsNet-credentialed photographer who can often be found with his Nikon lenses snapping the action at pro, college and high school games around the region. (That's his picture on the left, and him taking the picture on the right.) Co-founder Terry Eakin has retired, but like the sports teams Bob covers, EYA has a deep bench of passionate protégés ready for action.

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