Breaking News: Dave Johnson’s First One Charles Center Lease
Three months into his gig running One Charles Center for Peter Angelos’ Artemis Properties, Dave Johnson has signed Jergens and Purell parent Kao to a 16k SF full floor. It'll relocate from BWI, bringing the property to 65% leased (and enabling its employees to stop wearing air traffic controller headphones to drown out the planes).
The man who kept 201 N Charles full for 23 years has found a new Baltimore building to conquer, but he was so close to leaving the city for Houston. Dave was raised in Racine, Wis., just south of Milwaukee, and paid his way through college at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He was an American foreign affairs major, but the sales experience he gained through odd jobs is the education that led him to real estate.
He sold TVs and stereos for American TV & Appliance, where the proprietor, a local celebrity known as Crazy TV Lenny, taught him such dealmaking tricks as giving away a free bike with the purchase of a stereo, for which the underwriting works if the gimmick creates enough sales. Dave also was the Pabst rep on campus (a lesson in supply and especially demand, considering the 40,000 students there), and he booked bands for campus parties on behalf of a Milwaukee company. Senior year, he says, he booked music for every single Greek party. And he pulled triple duty for the university’s 1983 Halloween party: He was on the Wisconsin Student Association, which organized the 60,000-person shindig; sold 463 kegs; and booked his brother Doug’s band as the headliner. And appropriately, he dressed as a king that year, complete with a robe, sceptre, and crown.
Dave (right) and Doug (left, at the 2011 Milwaukee Irish Fest) are twins, and Doug, who's three minutes older, adopted twins also born three minutes apart. If mistaken for Doug, Dave prefers to roll with it rather than go through the hassle of explaining who he is.
When leasing and asset management company Equitec Group was interviewing job candidates in Chicago, Dave made the trip from college based on a friend’s comment that he had sales experience. He got the job and, given the choice between Chicago and Detroit, chose the latter because it boasted more opportunity than the more-established bigger city. Nine months later, Dave was making a presentation to the firm president just as the company’s Baltimore guy called to quit. Dave must have been nailing the presentation because he was offered the Baltimore job on the spot and, having just experienced a grueling Detroit winter, took it. That’s how a Milwaukee boy who owns three Green Bay Packers watches moved to Baltimore 30 years ago.
Dave managed and leased 25 S Charles and seven other properties (in Hartford, Philly, Bethesda, and Leesburg, Va.) for Equitec until it went bankrupt in 1990, a victim, he says, of the tax laws passed in 1986. Next, he took over 201 N Charles (above) for Sidra Real Estate, the holding company for a pair of Dubai families. JLL managed the property until 1997, when Dave and Sidra decided to bring that role in house, forming a JV known as Stratford Realty Management. That deal gave Dave an ownership stake, making a reality the first job advice he'd received from Equitec prez Kelly Gallagher: Run the buildings as if you own them (which guaranteed that Dave never left wet towels on the floor.) Dave ran 201 N Charles until this past September, when the JV sold the 264k SF tower to Blue Ocean Realty for $19.7M.
Dave wanted to stay in Baltimore, but it didn't seem possible. Not that the alternative was a bad one. Sidra owned two buildings in Houston’s premier Galleria submarket, and the company was getting into some oil and gas exploration, so Dave was going to manage those efforts, as well as work with Stream Realty, which last year delivered its first Galleria tower in 30 years, BBVA Compass Plaza (above). “When you get off the plane in Houston, you smell opportunity,” he says. (Isn't that just barbeque?) But then, in December, Peter Angelos’ people called.
Peter’s Artemis Properties owns just under 1M SF and two development sites in Baltimore County, and Peter’s take was that Baltimore couldn’t afford to lose another good guy, Dave tells us. (That's the same reason the Ravens' gave Jacoby Jones a new deal.) So, Dave’s job is to run Artemis’ portfolio, including the 341k SF One Charles Center (outside of which he's snapped adjusting the tie of former Mayor Tom D’Alesandro Jr., father of Nancy Pelosi). He tells us they're hitting the reset button on marketing for the Mies van der Rohe-designed building, the first one delivered in the early ’60s reinvention of Downtown.
Dave doesn’t buy the idea that Charles Center and Downtown are no longer the center of Baltimore. The complex is still the transportation nexus (there’s even a Zipcar place on the same block), he says, and One Charles Center boasts a varied tenancy, including law firms and three of Baltimore’s preeminent design firms. The revived Center Plaza (above), the park in the middle of Charles Center’s skyscrapers, is another amenity. In other words, that opportunity Dave smelled in Houston? There’s a whiff of it in Downtown Baltimore, too, he says, especially as the market is about to make clear whether Downtown's residential revitalization has worked.