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January 2, 2008


Happy New Year!  It’s 2008 and that means the biennial Builders’ Ball is just around the corner—well, November anyway.  Special thanks to Skyscraper Sponsor Siemens Building Technologies. It's a great event and cause, and you all must attend!

Want a prediction for ’08?  Victor MacFarlane will become such a force in Washington, he’ll become known just by a first name—our own Madonna of real estate.   If you don’t know Victor, pay attention:  He may be America’s leading urban development pioneer, with $20 billion under management for institutional real estate managers and their pension capital sources such as CalPERS.  And he’s going to have a huge impact here:  MacFarlane Partners is in major partnerships with Forest City on the Yards, Monument on Half Street, and especially with JBG on the new $2.5 billion JBG Urban portfolio.  We dropped in on Victor the other day to learn more about the life of the self-made mogul who aims to do both well and good.

Yes, he’s based in San Fran, but he’s become a Washingtonian as well.  He tells us he gets here almost every week (on his Challenger, soon to upgrade to a Global), and has made offers on two houses in DC (none accepted yet).  And he’s got Conn Ave. offices above Burberry’s, where he showed us this photo by a daughter, one of his five kids.   He’s been coming to DC a long time:   first in 1979 to work on the JW Marriott when he was a young Aetna analyst running numbers on project yields and construction costs (“the same thing we do now, except by hand”).  Outside of business, he came to the Million Man March in ‘95 with his eldest son.  More recently:  ULI conferences and pitching another major pension fund. 


He grew up in Middletown, Ohio, raised by a single mom who had a job at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and then the Social Security Administration.   Cash was scarce:  Until age 12, he slept every night on a couch he had to share with his sister.  Wanting to give him something better, his mom sent him for grades 9-12 to a Presbyterian school in Albuquerque where you paid what you could afford:  “We didn’t pay much.”  He says he cried his first week away. Afterwards, he went to the University of New Mexico, taking six years while he worked digging ditches, cleaning pigpens, pulling weeds—“things you’d expect of a strong guy,” but adding proudly he also learned how to make Indian jewelry.


Victor started law school there as well, but in his first week of class (he remembers listening to the Isley Brothers when it hit him) he worried he would end up spending his life in New Mexico.  He called up the admissions office at UCLA, which had also accepted him, and asked if he could still get in.  They said yes.  Within 48 hours he was in his ’66 Mustang heading out there.   “I met two other guys at orientation and lived in Santa Monica.  If I hadn’t made that move, I think I’d still be in Albuquerque, working for the city.”  After law school, he clerked for a federal judge, then went to the U of Pittsburgh because it could confer an MBA in less than a year.  And why real estate?  He had a sister working at Aetna who set up some interviews for him, and that’s the industry sector he chose over bonds.   


He bought DC United a year ago.  His soccer interest didn’t come from childhood:  He grew up loving basketball and doing best in football (even at 6’6” he was a great wide receiver because he was fast).   But he went from Aetna to Denver in 1983 to join a private placement syndicator (he developed 208 apartments on the north side that was named Denver’s best complex by its metropolitan apartment association).  While raising a family, he coached soccer, and his wife was an assistant coach.  One of their kids was serious enough to attend IMG’s soccer academy in Bradenton, and they even bought a place there—just sold it this year.   He loves watching soccer, but due to knees, now mostly sticks to a treadmill.


Victor’s mission is to invest in America’s most vibrant cities:  So far 20M SF of commercial space and 27,000 multi-family housing units in DC, NYC, Boston, L.A., and the Bay Area. Seattle may be next.  In Manhattan, he owns the parking garage at the Time Warner Center and half of its retail including three restaurants like the famed Per Se.  After SF, he's here three times more than any other city—it's becoming his second home.   How’d he make the connection to JBG?  Earlier this year JBG co-founder Ben Jacobs “reached out” and they met for drinks at the Four Seasons, where he stays.  Victor initially didn’t see any business they could do together, but one Sunday in early summer after a couple more meetings realized it made sense.  The Four Seasons bar didn’t make much money on the sessions; he doesn’t drink except for Diet Coke.

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