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March 25, 2008

Next Bisnow Breakfast & Schmooze:  Louis Dreyfus Property President Jeff Sussman and DC Head Bob Braunohler. Apr. 16 at BLT Steak. Come hear about their amazing Lafayette Tower and other new projects. Special thanks to Tishman Construction, Gilbert Randolph and WorkSpaces LLC. Sign up!


We've been telling you lately about some of the legendary local real estate families—and there are a surprising number of them, often flying under the radar except to aficionados. Indeed, the storied Bender family's company even goes under the name Blake Real Estate. Why? Naturally, inspiration came from a woman.  President Dave Bender tells us his grandpa, Jack Bender, started the company back in 1948 and named it after his wife's maiden name. (That was evidently in the days before online passcodes, when you could reveal such secrets.)


Dave, right. last week in his offices at 1150 Connecticut Ave. with EVP Steve Lustgarten. What originally began as a painting company morphed into construction and development with Blake's first ground-up space at 1120 Connecticut, built in 1959. Next week is the debut of Blake's $12M rehab of 1025 Connecticut, including new building skin, mechanical system, and common areas. Within one block of Blake HQ the company owns six buildings! Dave also has two sons, 20 and 17, so our money's on a 4th generation of Benders in the biz.


Steve, overlooking, what else but Connecticut Ave.  (And, wow, they keep their windows clean.)  "We are very long term-owners—we still own our first building 49 years later." Steve says that when tenants rent a Blake building, they really get to know their landlord; he thinks this leads to long-termers like the American Bankers Association, which has been in 1120 Connecticut since 1970 and just re-upped their lease. Even Blake employees tend to stick around; the average one's been with the company 17 years; Steve tops the charts with 37.


1120 Connecticut, a/k/a the Bender Building is now new and improved. 99% of Blake's 2.4M SF in the metro area is occupied.  The company has 350 employees:  45 tie-and-jacket folks in the office with the rest onsite at different projects. Blake also used to have a construction arm that built landmarks like the Holocaust Museum, FBI Building, and Walter Reed Hospital.  Now the company's focus is development. In addition to their rehab work, they develop from the ground-up (like the 35k SF Jewish Social Services in Falls Grove which delivered in February) and more than 150 interior projects per year. Also fans of mixed-use, they're zoning 890 acres in Frederick for a town center developed in conjunction with Beazer Homes.


Operations head Bill Clark and property management VP Mark Benedetti stand in what they tell us used to be Muhammad Ali's office in the early 80s when the south half of their space was Ali's world headquarters. Blake must have an athletic streak; Redskins' QB Sonny Jurgensen even did leasing for the firm in the 60s.     


We know the way to Blake's heart: cookies.  Development head Don Silverstein and Steve show us a check they presented to the Girl Scouts for, get this: 4000 boxes! The guys manage to stay thin because most are sent to tenants, but Steve confesses another reason:  "When no one's looking, I'm the thin-mint guy." 

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