An Interview With: Monty Hoffman
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PN Hoffman has been on a tear the last decade building largely residential developments in DC, and last week the Anacostia Waterfront Commission named it and its partners a finalist, together with Madison Marquette and KSI [see last week’s Real Estate Weekly] as prospective developers of the District’s Southwest Waterfront. So we thought we’d find out a little more about PN Hoffman.
Originally from Johnstown, Pa., Monty Hoffman moved to this region in 1984 with $400 and a van to join three other roommates in Falls Church. “It was a Grapes of Wrath type thing,” he says. “I needed a job and my friends were already here.” He saw a help wanted sign at Donohoe construction and worked there ten years in project management, moving up to director of operations. But in the early 90s, “there was a mass exodus of people from the District and real estate was ugly,” but he saw opportunity. Together with Donohoe colleague Pete Nazelrod (the “PN” in PN Hoffman), and while still working at the firm, they bought a small building on 16th Street, fixed it up, put an addition on the back, and offered 6 units for sale. 150 people showed up at the opening. At that point, Hoffman says, “We were having fun and making money—and figured it was okay to quit our day jobs.”
This was 1994, and they took the money made from that project and bought two more buildings near DuPont Circle. Since then PN Hoffman has built 35 mixed use or residential projects in the District, and today they average about $150 million per year in revenue or “asset creation” (that is, if condos are sold to others). Among their projects have been the Lofts in Adams Morgan (done in the early stage of the loft craze, with public parking below) and the Mather Building near the Verizon Center (a 10 story condo/loft historic retrofit). Today they are venturing out to Northern Virginia with Post Properties in developing Carlyle Square near Old Town, and are looking to create 360,000 square feet of residential and retail along with a 1500 car underground parking garage in downtown Bethesda at the corner of Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues on what are now parking lots. They will break ground in ’08 and close down Woodmont Avenue for a while.
Why do you think you were named a finalist for the Southwest Waterfront? First of all, we’re honored that we were one of just two finalists out of the 17 original bidders. We’re part of a great team. We have Streuver Brothers, which has performed more urban waterfront development than anyone else on the eastern seaboard. They also specialize in neighborhood transformation, and do business in a dozen cities across the mid-Atlantic and northeast and have a lot of experience with waterfront retail. And our partner McCormack, Baron, and Salazar, out of St. Louis, has pioneered mixed income housing, and worked with the Clinton Adminstration transforming the Hope VI program. In fact, they’ve completed 18,000 mixed income housing units across the country. One of the good things about concentrating in DC for so long is that we’ve earned a lot of relationships with many bright urban minds – many of who are on our team. And we’ve also brought in Fred Kent and Stan Eckstut, two of the best urban waterfront planners around. Stan’s from New York City, and Fred is in Hong Kong right now, both internationally recognized.
What’s the vision you presented to the AWC? You know, Washington has 22 miles of shoreline, yet because of the federal government ownership of land, there are no waterfront neighborhoods. We believe this is our opportunity to create a special place where residents can walk to work, take a water taxi to the ball game, and shop at a farmer’s market on the city pier or the corner grocer. They can walk to a fisherman’s wharf or meet friends at the microbrewery. A boardwalk, and a grid of walkways with a pedestrian bridge connecting to Banneker Park on the other side of Maine Avenue, can provide access to the mall, the Metro, or a public park we’re creating. Tall ships will be docked at the pier and you can just take in the waterfront air.
And the Arena Stage? This can be partly an arts area. We are thinking of artist “live/work” units. Arena Stage theatregoers will be able to grab dinner before a show. There will be retail and cafes to bring people into the area, a Hyatt hotel and marina, a maritime museum and aquarium, so lots of synergy with arts, retail, and residential.
What are the next steps? We gave our initial interpretation of our vision after analyzing pedestrian traffic and so forth. But this is the beginning of a fluid process. We will be talking with stakeholders and we know our plans will adjust. It’s vital that we balance stakeholder interests with the “greater good” of DC.
For people who just see the PN Hoffman name around town but don’t really know you, what do you see as your theme or differentiator?We have always worked very hard to be a market leader. We’re neighborhood transition oriented and look to stimulate the market with new ideas like lofts and the “industrial edge” look. For example, we’re just finishing the Alta at 14th and Thomas Circle. It will be very cosmopolitan: minimalist, with phenomenal light and air, sort of urban chic, done with the architectural firm Cunningham & Quill. We continue to reinvent ourselves to remain cutting edge. One of the things that separates us from others is we build in neighborhoods and are very experienced with community outreach. And Chase Point on the District line near Chevy Chase?That should be complete in the middle of January. It’s almost sold out, a very sophisticated development with 108 units. They range from 5 affordable units at around $200,000 to market rate units from $500,000 to $3 million.
Got any secret extravagances? I ride a quarterhorse called “General,” that I got two months ago.
You know how to ride? Don’t forget, I grew up on a farm. My family was in construction, but my uncle farmed it and I rode the horses.
How’d you come up with the name “General”? He’s a high spirited horse who loves to run. He was already named “The General,” and when I found that out, it was one of those “You had me at hello” moments. :)
Clarification from last week’s issue: Madison Marquette is represented by the law firm of Latham & Watkins; the AWC is represented by DLA Piper Rudnick.