As a legend in this town, Herb Miller has a challenge. When you’ve created Georgetown Park, Potomac Mills (and the Mills Corp. that spread that concept across America), Washington Harbor, Market Square and Gallery Place, what do you do for an encore? Now we know: You go back and re-invent. After building Georgetown Park in ‘81 and selling it in ‘86, Herb bought it again last year. He says that in the next three years he’ll take a quarter of a billion dollars and “make it like nothing you’ve ever seen.”
We visited Herb in his new Georgetown home last week. (He’s downsized from the $25 million pad he sold to Robert Allbritton earlier this year, but as you can see, hasn’t exactly moved to an English basement.) Some say he’s just a man of vision without concern for details. We found the opposite: He personally laid out a fine selection of lox and bagels, and thoughtfully provided a bagel guillotine. We were afraid to use it and allowed him the honors.
| || || |
Georgetown Park was the first urban mall in America—and very exciting. But for 20 years after he sold it, he watched it languish. He says pension fund asset managers (like those who ran it) are not entrepreneurial, but collect fees for doing conventional things like putting in “mall stores.” People don’t go to Georgetown for that, he says, but because it’s the epicenter of high fashion. His vision: Get an anchor like Nordstrom for 110k SF of the 300k total, then add in 70 of the edgiest merchants from here, Europe, South America and Asia (think Kate Spade and Diesel). Herb has a travel bug and goes in and out of every store he sees. Years ago he bought a 900-year-old mill in Vence, near Nice, and knows European stores inside out; he also loves Buenos Aires. Earlier this summer, he went to see the latest stores in Seattle, San Francisco, LA and Orange County. One other thing he notes, 75% of DC tourists come to G-town, and shop more than ever because the Internet has made them comfortable shipping.
Herb knows how to work the phone, but actually this was a call from his 20-year-old son, leaving Paris for a semester in Hong Kong. Herb’s got five kids, ages 13 to 31; the eldest, Ben, is his business partner. He has a staff of 30 and 40-50 consultants.
Herb’s lived in Georgetown since he started renting for $75 a month on M Street 44 years ago at age 20. He grew up in Silver Spring, in one of the first Indian Springs subdivisions. His father was a lawyer/engineer who worked for the government; his mom died when he was in high school. An active Democrat, he bemoans DC's lack of diversity, where he says you have 300,000 underprivileged and 300,000 overprivileged. He says one reason he stays in DC and devotes himself to retail is that he sees it as achieving much of the diversity sought through mixed-income housing.
Talk about being a guy who likes to see the big picture! Herb showed what All Around Technology’s Cameron Bolling was installing in his basement: the biggest TV available today. But even that isn’t enough. Football-crazed Herb has four additional big TVs arrayed around it to watch multiple games.