What the Italian Embassy's Developer Learned From Airbnb
DC native and Mill Creek senior managing director Sean Caldwell has a unique hobby: staying in Airbnb residences around the city. And that's actually helped to shape two rather unique developments under construction next year: the View at Waterfront and the former Italian Embassy. We're excited to hear him discuss them as a panelist at our Mid-Year Multifamily Update on Aug. 13 at the Mayflower Hotel.
On Airbnb, Sean and his family stayed two weeks in Cleveland Park near his 15-year-old daughter’s Field School and a month in Georgetown, but after a few days at 14th and U Street, they realized “we’re not hip enough for 14th Street.” It’s also given him the best market research possible; he and his wife spent more time on 16th Street, where the former Italian Embassy is located, and “we realized we could very well be the target demographic.” The building will be luxury units and those staying there could want a more laid-back environment than hipster-centric 14th. Growing up in Falls Church, Sean worked for Trammell Crow Residential for 11 years before Dallas-based Mill Creek spun off five years ago. His family has been in this area for a long time: he has a great-great-great-grandfather (we may have left out a great) born 200 years before him to the day, also in Virginia.
Mill Creek bought the embassy last month for $16.2M from a JV of The Garrett Cos, Valor Development and Potomac Construction Group, which got approval for 135 multifamily homes on the property. Sean says Mill Creek plans to put 25 units in the embassy building itself and put a nine-story high-rise behind it. The embassy’s three ballrooms will be preserved, and the stunning building will be used as an amenity space for the entire community. There will be affordable units in the high-rise as well as what Sean calls attitude units. For more money, "you can make the homes feel different and special,” he says. Units will have windows on two sides and the whole building is “a very high-end condo spec.” Plans, rendered above, show a condo in the background in the architectural style of the embassy building, which will surely thrill preservationists when it opens early 2018. (Also happy: fans of ghost trees.)
At 1100 6th St SW, Mill Creek is getting ready to build The View at Waterfront, two buildings next to two historic I.M. Pei-designed apartments. Mill Creek won the right to build in the TOPA process because, Sean says, they approached the residents with a lower density design that respected the height of the Pei towers, as opposed to building to the approved 11 stories. The residential building will be the first in DC with a two-story concrete platform beneath five stories of stick frame. The residents didn’t like the initial plans, and Mill Creek’s approved project is much more in line with the two I.M. Pei buildings next door. The two projects, development associate Josh Posnick tells us, "present a unique opportunity for our team to showcase the past while encouraging and enhancing community in two distinct neighborhoods."
In all, Mill Creek has six projects in lease-up and construction and six in the pipeline, including buildings in Falls Church, Arbor Row in Tysons and the Mosaic District in Merrifield (rendered), and is partnering with Howard Hughes on the redevelopment of Alexandria’s Landmark Mall, with 280k SF of lifestyle retail and 360 units. Sean says Mill Creek passes on more projects than it takes on, but could add to the pipeline if the right offer came along.
As for Sean and the Mill Creek team above (Jessie Henry, Josh, Andrew Tush, Sean, Amirali Nasserian and Joe Muffler) time will tell where his next move will be: it could be a stick-frame building inside the Beltway or an Airbnb apartment on Capitol Hill. Hear more from him and other residential developers on Aug. 13 at the Mayflower Hotel for our DC Mid-Year Multifamily Update. Sign up here.