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Titan Of Tysons: Visionary Developer Gerald Halpin Dies At 94

Gerald Halpin, a D.C. real estate legend who pioneered Tysons' development, spurred the creation of the Silver Line and invested in sustainable technology companies, died Monday in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He was 94. 

A 2007 photo of West-Group Management CEO Gerald Halpin

A World War II veteran who served on a Navy construction battalion, Halpin graduated from Syracuse University after the war and spent the next 15 years building and acquiring manufacturing plants for Atlantic Research Co.

He began working in D.C. commercial real estate in 1960 when he formed Commonwealth Capital and developed Alexandria's 700K SF Landmark Center shopping mall, which is being redeveloped. Then, in 1962, along with Tom Nicholson, Rudolph Seeley and Charlie Ewing, Halpin founded West-Group Management when the team bought the Storm and Ulfelder dairy farms and developed them into the Westgate Office Park

West-Group continued to buy and develop land between Northern Virginia's two airports, becoming the largest landowner in Tysons and ultimately creating the bustling Tysons community that anchors Fairfax County today. 

"He was the first to understand the value of Tysons Corner and to realize that it could become a place for people to work and to live," Fairfax County Economic Development Authority CEO Jerry Gordon said. "Even before others could grasp his vision, Mr. Halpin was moving to make things happen." 

West-Group Founder Gerald Halpin (center) with Vice Presidents Bill Rucker and Mark Lowham in a 2010 photo

Throughout his career, Halpin developed more than 13M SF of office, residential and retail properties. In 2010, West-Group sold its 115-acre Tysons portfolio to DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners

"There was always a very deliberate effort to look forward and to understand what the next generation of a particular landholding was going to be," said Mark Lowham, who worked with Halpin at West-Group for more than 20 years. "Everyone understood that today's built environment was only temporary and the next generation would be something different."

Lowham, now TTR Sotheby’s International Realty CEO, watched Halpin's career up close. Lowham was 7 when his father brokered a deal in Jackson Hole for Halpin, later coming to work for him at West-Group in 1989 after graduating from business school. He worked with Halpin until West-Group sold off its portfolio, and even brokered the sale of Halpin's Alexandria home in 2010 when he moved to Jackson Hole. 

“The most important thing I learned from him was it's really important that we engage and be supportive of the communities we live and work in,” Lowham said. “Jerry was a role model for that.”  

As one of Northern Virginia's preeminent developers and landowners, Halpin played a key role in the early planning of the Silver Line, Lowham said. The newest addition to the Metro system, the Silver Line now goes through Tysons and will soon reach Dulles International Airport and extend to Ashburn

West-Group CEO Gerald Halpin in a 2007 photo

In addition to his key role in Northern Virginia's development, Halpin also built West Farm, a significant portfolio of commercial properties in Montgomery County east of I-270. 

Halpin also played a role in the development around Jackson Hole. He helped developed the 624-acre Indian Springs Ranch property, a successful conservation easement project. About 12 years ago, he built the Grand Teton National Park Visitor Center. Halpin moved to Jackson Hole in 2013, and spent his final weekend at Lost Creek Ranch, where Lowham said he died peacefully in his sleep Monday.  

While he will be best remembered for his development prowess, Halpin was also an early investor in many technology companies, focusing on sustainability. In 1976, he founded World Resource Co., a metals recycling business that today operates on four continents. Halpin also invested in an effort to extract carbon from the seas in a method called ocean farming, Lowham said. In 2008, he developed a carbon-neutral house in McLean, Fairfax County's first LEED Platinum single-family home.  

"He was very interested in technology, and particularly technology as it could be applied for sustainability," Lowham said. “He was one of a dying breed of serial entrepreneurs who was willing to take risks."