Bisnow Exclusive: Edens CEO Jodie McLean On Why Union Market Succeeds
It’s no secret that Edens’ 70k SF Union Market retail center, a concept with dozens of small booths in a historic market in Northeast DC, has spurred one of the fastest development booms in the DC region. But if it was a secret as to how, Edens CEO Jodie McLean, a new DC resident, shed some light in an interview with Bisnow. She’ll be a panelist at our DC State of the Market Part 1 on June 9 at the Renaissance Hotel Downtown.
Edens owns about 15 properties in the region—about 20% of its national portfolio—including the retail at City Vista in Mt. Vernon Triangle and the Harris Teeter-anchored Jenkins Row on Capitol Hill, but the two jewels in its crown are Union Market and Mosaic District. The secret to those developments is how long the average visitor spends there.
“We look at the US as being over-retailed,” says Jodie, who tweeted the above picture of herself with Mayor Muriel Bowser earlier this month. “Nobody needs another retail place; people truly need a gathering place where they want to spend their time.”
Edens’ goal is for the average customer to come to a center three and a half times a week, for five hours total, “which are huge numbers,” Jodie notes. Edens accomplishes that by focusing on the little things.
Think of a retail center like a living room, she says. You have your anchor and your basics—just like a couch and walls—but it’s not until it adds a coffee table, an end table and maybe some throw pillows that it feels warm and welcoming. Edens prides itself on finding those details that make people want to stay in one space.
“We want this to be the amenity of your life,” Jodie says.
That’s a lofty goal, but Edens is achieving it at Union Market, which won a MAXI Gold award at ICSC RECon this week for marketing, sales and promotion excellence. The renovated market, which began operating more than 200 years ago, opened under Edens’ stewardship in 2012, and it’s reached such a critical mass that luxury residential from Edens and others is getting underway.
LCOR is constructing a 187-unit apartment building at 340 Florida Ave NE right now—Edens will own and program the 30k SF of retail on the ground floor—and it will be the first multifamily ever in the market district when it opens. Next month, Edens, Trammell Crow Residential and Level 2 Development will break ground on a 440-unit building, and Edens will control the 30k SF of retail there as well.
Overall, Edens controls all or part of an 8M SF development pipeline in the area around Union Market, but Jodie says she expects to only develop about half of that, while ceding the rest to other developers.
“Nobody ever lived here,” she says. “We’re working hard to make sure, if we’re bringing in new residents and retail, that we’re also celebrating the businesses that are already there. In the long run, that’s what is going to continue to give this place soul.”
To that end, Jodie beamed about a butcher shop at Union Market, Harvey’s, which has been operating since the 1930s, long before it was the hot weekend gathering place for Millennials and families in Northeast. In the last year, Washingtonian recognized its hot dogs as the best in DC and it was featured in Bon Appetit magazine.
You can hear the smile in her voice when she talks about concepts like Chaia and Dolcezza Gelato, two businesses that started in Union Market and have since grown to their own brick-and-mortar spaces. Not only are they job-creating success stories, but they create more desire for up-and-coming businesses to follow the same path.
“We want to be the place that can help inspire businesses and real serious job growth,” she says. “We don’t want to tout businesses that wind up hiring one or two people. We want to be a part of creating a thriving economic ecosystem.”
Edens is now more of a part of that ecosystem than ever. Jodie moved last fall from Columbia, SC, where Edens was founded in 1966, to Bethesda, and Edens’ corporate address moved with her, although they still have offices in Boston, Columbia, Atlanta, Miami and Houston. DC is centrally located—Edens’ financiers are all based in New York, and Jodie found herself in DC two or three days a week anyway—but the move was about more than that.
“The opportunity to really become a part of a city that is going through some transformational growth is exciting to us,” she says. “We wanted as corporate citizens and personally to be a part of that.”