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Ascenters: Part 1

Washington DC

Want to see the future of real estate? We caught up with some of the DC folks who attended Bisnow's first-ever Ascent, a three-day retreat for under-40 owners, developers and financiers in Miami earlier this month. Ascenters are like the Avengers, except instead of Ironman, we have...

Bo Menkiti
CEO/Founder, The Menkiti Group

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Bo has a passion for community transformation. His firm focuses on urban commercial corridor revitalization projects and middle-market housing developments, and since launching in 2004 has completed 500M SF of residential and commercial projects in DC (with a concentration in the northeast), $100M worth of development, and sold over $500M in residential units. What's more, a separate brokerage unit did $1.3B in sales last year. Bo, a Boston native and father of three boys, says one of the most interesting was Metropolitan Overlook. Best lesson: Have a long-term vision and execute daily at a micro level. Hobby: Plays in adult ice hockey league.

Kevin Riegler
Co-Founder, CAS Riegler Companies

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Kevin got “paid pennies” early in his career. He says while most people would have tried to find a higher-paying real estate job, he stuck with it. Now Kevin runs the development and investment company that he co-launched in 2010, which completed over 10 urban-infill projects worth over $70M in its first three years. The firm is developing eight urban residential/mixed-use projects in DC and one in Alexandria. One of the most memorable: a conversion of a 1902 elementary school in Capitol Hill into 27 condos and three custom townhouses this year. Kevin, who runs the firm with Adam Stifel, moved to Rockville as a child. Best lesson: Real estate is so multi-disciplinary that you’re only as good as the people around you. Family/hobbies: Married to Gaby (also in real estate), one child, Kai, seen above while on family vacation in Jackson Hole. Kevin also plays golf, mountain bikes, and skies.

Owen Billman
Associate Director, Blake Real Estate

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Owen, twice selected for Bisnow’s 35 Under 35, has a complex project on his plate: 2100 K St. It’s a 154k SF office expansion of IFC’s HQ at 2121 Penn Ave and replaces a nine-story office building. It also includes 4K SF of ground-floor retail and 48 underground parking spaces. Complex projects are more interesting, he says. Owen, who grew up near Annapolis and went to the University of Maryland, made an important transition in his career from research associate at CoStar to working on the deal side at Blake. Now his bucket list includes working on a big assemblage project downtown. Best lesson: Persistence is key. Nothing is over until it’s signed. Free time: Spends it with his wife and first child, Blaire, born in April. He plays basketball, golfs, and shoots sporting clays.

Aaron Georgelas
Multifamily and Mixed-Use Managing Partner,
Georgelas Group

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You can't think of Tysons development without Georgelas Group. Aaron, a McLean native, manages the firm’s mixed-use development in Tysons that includes 4,000 multifamily units and 1M SF of office, retail and hotel. He’s also busy leasing 8500 Tyco Rd, a large industrial warehouse space nearby. (Think Equinix and Crossfit.) One of Aaron’s most memorable projects was his first, establishing a permanent home for an Arlington free clinic in a mixed-use project. Best lesson: Money is made when the property is purchased, not when it’s sold. Free time: Coaches Little League and races mountain bikes.

John Wilkinson
President, Boundary Companies

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John’s Chevy Chase real estate investment firm--launched this year--is working on every kind of deal: From entitling over 1M SF of land for residential and retail uses to preparing to renovate and lease an existing DC office building. The firm's also exploring emerging urban markets and alternative asset classes. The Wilmington, DE, native started Boundary after working at an energy drink startup, CBRE in Philly, and JBG and Meridian Group in DC. After wearing so many hats, it’s no wonder his professional bucket list includes teaching entrepreneurship. Best lesson: Meet a variety of people and listen to their needs. Free time: Hanging out with his wife and two daughters.

Stefan Martinovic
Founder/CEO, Create

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Stefan’s tech company is all about envisioning what could be. The startup built a web-based information platform that helps real estate people envision development scenarios and model financial and economic feasibility. Slated for public release in January, the product has interactive 3-D city maps loaded with property data. Stefan, whose first job was as a financial analyst for DOD and then as a hedge fund associate, realized three years ago there was no way to find this type of info, much less be able to manipulate it. The Jersey shore native enjoys hunting, fishing and boating. Best lessons: Be creative, and everything is a negotiation. 

Brook Katzen
Development VP, SB-Urban

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Brook is one of six at SB-Urban, a young firm focused on furnished studio apartment projects all over DC. Brook, who keeps all of them moving forward through the decision and approval process, says the firm has three projects slated for Georgetown, Dupont and Shaw. After entitlements and plan tweaks, construction should start early next year. Brook says he wants to be part of projects that elicit “gleeful emotions” from the people who occupy them. He’s originally from Worcester, MA, and came to DC in 2010 after living three years in Dubai. Best lesson: Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees or the trees for the forest. Hobby: Riding his bike, which means spending several hours away from emails, texts, phone calls, and screens.

Buwa Binitie
Managing Principal, Dantes Partners

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Buwa carved out his development expertise after coming to DC from Nigeria in 2001. (That’s him practicing his DJ skills as a child in his native country.) He launched Dantes Partners in 2005 after working for DC’s New Communities Initiative for two years. He “finds deals and raises money” and as a result, the residential firm’s 2015 pipeline already has over 300 units. His biggest career accomplishment has been delivering housing to people who need it the most. One of his memorable projects: The Hodge, a 90-unit affordable senior housing community that’s part of the larger City Market at O. Best lesson: Nurture relationships with everyone you meet; you never know where you or they might end up. Free time: Hanging out with wife and two daughters, local concerts and biking the city.

We'll be back with Ascenters: Part 2 tomorrow!