How WC Smith Became The Second-Most Active DC Developer
When WC Smith develops a space, it is doing more than erecting a building; the company is creating a lifestyle center designed to raise the well-being of its inhabitants. Perhaps that’s why the 48-year-old, homegrown company has been the second-most-active developer in our region since 2010 and scores high in customer satisfaction.
Just last month the WC Smith-managed Brunswick House at 1414 17th St NW, in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, was ranked 18th in the country—within the top 1%—on the Online Resident Assessment, a national measure of resident satisfaction from Multifamily Executive and J Turner Research.
“We get involved in the project, in the community,” says SVP Brad Fennell, snapped last year at our Waterfront event. “We invest in the city.”
Brad has two other reasons for its success—WC Smith’s leadership team of CEO Chris Smith (son of founder William Smith) and president John Ritz, and the longevity of many of the employees. Brad has been with the company for almost three decades and, he says, there are a dozen or more who’ve been with Smith longer.
That’s not to say there’s no room for new talent. When asked about possibly expanding the company, Brad says, “We’re not designing the company around the idea of what size firm we want; we’re designing the company by what it needs to satisfy and grow our portfolio.”
Bill Smith founded the company in 1968, and both he and his son Chris are native Washingtonians.
“We focus on the District, we’re long-range, we’re patient, and we’re disciplined with our approach,” Brad explains. “And that’s paid off well.”
Indeed, for a company that began as a rental properties manager mostly in the then-seedy 14th Street corridor, WC Smith has grown to some 700 employees and a diverse property portfolio with multiple business lines: property management, development, sales brokerage, finance, construction, management and other service subsidiaries.
“They’re all built around the principle of trying to bring value to our owners, our company and to the customers we serve,” Brad says.
A company turning point came in the '90s with the renovation of Parklands, a Ward 8 garden-style apartment complex of more than 1,000 units. The updates included a splash park, perhaps the first of its kind in the city, says WC Smith VP of communications Ann-Marie Bairstow. She sent us this photo of Brad thanking construction workers at its Capitol Riverfront Park Chelsea project (more on that later).
That little “extra” led to creation of the Town Hall Education, Arts and Recreation Campus (known as THE ARC), which serves residents and nonresidents alike. Twelve nonprofits on hand provide various classes, healthcare facilities and after-school programs.
In a move that shows neighborhood support, WC Smith moved its offices from 13th and L streets to the Capitol Riverfront at New Jersey Avenue and M Street SW, even before the neighborhood became the hot spot for restaurants that it is now, Ann-Marie says.
The company’s newest project, the Collective (rendered above), is concrete evidence why WC Smith ranks so high in area development and resident satisfaction.
Park Chelsea, the first of a three-phase, 1,150-unit apartment complex at 880 New Jersey Ave SE, will open in April with 429 units, an indoor lap pool, a rooftop pool and other amenities.
The second building, Agora, now under construction, will feature a Whole Foods as its anchor, a demonstration kitchen, a golf simulator and an infinity pool on the roof deck. Brad says the company hopes to break ground on the third building, the Garrett, next year. Its amenities, which like the others are open to all tenants, will be tennis and full-court basketball courts.
The Collective will be a difference-maker for residents in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, Brad predicts. Rents in the 13-story buildings will range from about $1,900 a month up to about $6k.
WC Smith, in partnership with Rappaport, are beginning to build the Skyland Town Center bordering Naylor Road, Alabama Avenue SE and Good Hope Road in Ward 7. That's the project that took decades to get started, and now sits in some uncertainty after Walmart canceled its planned anchor store.
Later this year, WC Smith plans to start construction on a 420-unit mixed-use project on a two-block site, formerly a one-story retail center, on H Street.