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February 19, 2008

Bisnow Happy Hour! Free to all Bisnow Real Estate readers (sign up here). Wed. Feb 20, at Teatro Goldoni (whose chef was recently chosen to cook for the celebs at the ChefDance competition at Sundance). Special thanks to our great sponsors US General Contracting and Leo A Daly!


Can you smell our metaphor coming at you from a mile away?  Yep, Opus East is setting its sights on the ballpark district. What's unusual about that?  Well, up 'til now, they've pretty much made their name in the 'burbs:  most recently, 850k SF spec offices in Bethesda (on a site they bought from Hines and IBM near Marriott); 280k for NOAA in College Park; and 150k for Lockheed in Chantilly.  But now they've suddenly got three things cooking in DC—with their appetite whetted so much that CEO Jim Lee, currently based in Rockville, tells us he's looking for a new office downtown. (Attn brokers: He's thinking of around Penn or K.) 


Okay, let's count those DC properties.  One is 100 M Street, SE, a 12-story 250k Class A office building (delivering in December) that sits only a couple blocks from the new stadium and is already one third pre-leased to engineering firm Parsons. A second is 1015 Half Street: They've almost finalized permits for it and would start digging next month. The 400k SF joint venture with PREI will be LEED Silver.  A third (okay, this doesn't fit the pattern) is a 127k SF dorm they're developing for Catholic Univ. But Jim is highest on the baseball area. He predicts transformation will happen "practically overnight" compared to, say, NoMa, because parcels are smaller and more developers are at work; people will see the potential as they start to attend baseball games and see rents are $8-10 a foot cheaper than downtown; and the new DOT headquarters there will drive development like the PTO did for Carlyle in Alexandria.

Headquartered in Minneapolis and owned by the Rauenhorst family (they decided OPUS was less of a tongue-twister), the firm does full service design/build and has been around since 1953. They call themselves a "merchant builder," meaning they sell everything they develop—or, as Jim says, "We sell to guys like ING's Marc Deluca." Jim's been with Opus 23 years, and back in '94 they made their first foray into the market north of Virginia when Jim moved here from Florida. Since then he's taken employees from zero to 125 (75 here in DC and 50 in Philadelphia).  Last year, national revenues topped $2.2B, while locally they did over $200M. In DC and points north (mainly Pa. and Boston), they have a pipeline of 3M SF office and 2M industrial.

Though he grew up in the center of Missouri—a little town called Moberly—the UVA alum tells us his family history can be traced back to this area.  He's a local history buff and enjoys connecting the dots of the Lee family history in Maryland and Virginia. (That Lee? Yes—although same tree, different branch.) Above he shows the plan of the city of Washington in 1792 and smiles when he explains, "This is an 1860's restrike. I don't want people to think I paid $45,000 for a map."

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