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November 18, 2008

Bisnow Breakfast & Schmooze: Latest Market Trends, with gurus Marc DeLuca (ING), Hayden Jones (Carlyle Group), and Bruce Lane (Meridian Group). This Thursday, Nov. 20. Thanks to great sponsors Katten Muchin Rosenman, Group Goetz Architects, and Forrester Construction. Sign up here!


Even if you can’t find Dubai on a globe, you know it’s a hot business spot. How does a DC firm make the leap to working in the most populous city of the United Arab Emirates?


Perkins + Will’s Rusty Meadows has juggled seven Dubai projects since his first visit in ’02 and tells us his big break was the recession that year. An American consultant with Mideast contacts offered several US firms the opportunity to set up shop, but “I was the only one that bit.” He says his initial investment was $250K before landing his first project, a $350M mixed-use that started in ’04 and won’t be finished until ’10. Travel expenses alone cost $15k per trip. But Rusty returns every two months and finds multiple RFP’s each visit.


Just to be sure you know: Dubai is on the south coast of the Persian Gulf. Not to be confused with Abu Dhabi, the second most populous city of the UAE, where a lot of work is also going on.


Rusty and Steve Manlove re-enact an October 6 passing of the managing director baton (or, in this case, a model of a 70 story Abu Dhabi tower they’re working on with hotel, office, apartments, retail, and parking for 4,000 cars). Rusty will be sticking around as Principal for a while. Their Dubai office has a staff of five: two locals and three ex-pats. Rusty admits Americans are more costly (often 50% higher), but says developers want to work with them because they believe they have higher design quality, a can-do business ethic, and a brand helpful to secure foreign financing. Steve has one trip to Dubai under his belt, but his current focus is moving his family to the DC area after 16 months commuting from St. Paul.


If you’re thinking of jumping into Dubai now, Rusty says it’s almost too late. Developers have found names they trust and want companies up and running. While there are barriers to entry, language isn’t one of them. In Dubai, English is widespread, and Rusty tells us trying to speak Arabic only gets him in trouble. An early attempt to say thank you (“shukran”) turned into asking the rest of the table: “Do you shop at Choitram?” (a local Indian grocery store). Other architects he spots doing the commute come from HOK, SOM, Ellerbe Becket, and RTKL. Is there a bubble about to pop? “Who knows?” says Rusty, but adds, “There's underlying demand for a modern regional center for finance, retail, tourism, health, and education, and they have the wealth to support it.”


We got a sneak peak Friday at the Capitol Visitors Centers that will open in early December, courtesy of the world’s best guide for such a purpose, the only architect to serve as a Congressman in the 20th Century (D-NH, ‘91-‘95). We’re talking of course about our friend Dick Swett, head of the Leo A. Daly DC office, shown here contemplating the monumental new limestone gallery you enter on the Capitol’s east side. We were blown away by the scale of the subterranean facility, which is not surprising since it was more than a decade and a billion dollars in the making. Dick points out it will obviate the long lines since 9/11, prepare visitors for a quicker and more informed tour through the Capitol itself, and feature the high energy efficiency of being embedded in the ground.     


We snapped this on Friday of DC Planning director Harriett Tregoning and Hizzoner at Nationals Park, where they publicized a year of advancing $8B worth of development in the Anacostia Waterfront area, eg, selecting Clark Realty for $2.5B Poplar Point, approving a $198 million TIF/pilot package to fund infrastructure for the $1.5 billion Southwest Waterfront, seeking a master developer to transform 50 acres around DC General into a $1.4B Hill East Waterfront, moving forward the 2.5M Waterfront Station in SW, and developing an Anacostia 2032 plan to make the river boatable, swimmable, and fishable in 25 years.

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