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Developer Q&A: Brookfield's Deborah Ratner Salzberg And Toby Millman

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Brookfield's Deborah Ratner Salzberg at a 2017 Bisnow event
Brookfield's Deborah Ratner Salzberg at a 2017 Bisnow event

The revitalization of Southeast D.C.'s Capitol Riverfront neighborhood over the last decade has largely centered around The Yards, a 48-acre waterfront mixed-use development.

The project was launched by Deborah Ratner Salzberg and Forest City, which was acquired last year by Brookfield. Toby Millman, formerly at Ditto Residential and Vornado, joined Brookfield in March as senior vice president and is helping lead The Yards development going forward. Millman will speak Nov. 21 at Bisnow's Future of Capitol Riverfront event. Bisnow caught up with the two developers to hear the latest on The Yards.  

Bisnow: I want to start with Toby, since I haven't talked with you since you joined Brookfield. Can you tell me why you decided to join the company and what your role is going forward as it relates to The Yards? 

Millman: I've been with the company for about eight months. It's been a tremendous experience, and it's a great company. Brookfield is an amazing company doing great things around the world. With the acquisition of Forest City and the development pipeline they acquired as part of that, I saw that as a real opportunity for me. In particular The Yards, which Forest City created prior to my arrival. They really put Capitol Riverfront on the map in a lot of ways, and to be in a position to guide and help lead the development of the second half is really something I couldn't pass up. 

Bisnow: New buildings have continued to deliver at The Yards this year, such as Guild in September, and restaurants and retailers have continued to open. What have these new additions brought to the neighborhood?

Ratner Salzberg: To me, I look forward every spring to baseball season because every spring is when I really notice the difference in what we accomplished at The Yards and what's new and what's happening. Prior to baseball season last year we had four buildings under construction, the Bower condos by Hoffman [& Associates], our apartment building Guild, another apartment building called The Estate and the Thompson Hotel. When baseball season opened this year we were ready to open Guild and Bower and you could see the progress. It was an amazing difference to recognize the historic part of The Yards was close to build-out. 

Millman: I feel like these last couple buildings, certainly Guild in particular, and the latest building about to deliver, are filling in a lot of the gaps that were there in terms of the built environment. I think it's really feeling like an established neighborhood. You can go multiple blocks and there's uninterrupted streetscapes, retail and a lot of activity on the street. 

Ratner Salzberg: I think we lived up to our goal of having a neighborhood that looks like it's been there for a while by using different architects and styles. It's felt like a place for a long time, but it feels like an established part of the city. It's unique and varied, and each building is different. 

Construction nearing completion at The Estate apartment building at The Yards, photographed Oct. 2
Construction nearing completion at The Estate apartment building at The Yards, photographed Oct. 2

Bisnow: You mentioned the latest apartment building, The Estate, can you tell me about that building and what it looks like? 

Millman: The Estate is 264 units and it's really an amazing design. One of the things we have to our benefit here in The Yards is that we have more building envelopes than we have [floor-area ratito] to fill that building envelope. So unlike other parts of D.C. where developers feel the need to fill out the box they are given, at The Yards we don't have that pressure. The Estate is a good example. The side of the building facing the river has a series of terraces and it's very much a sculpted building which not only has benefits for the built environment, looking at the building, but obviously it has benefits for those renting apartments within the building. 

Bisnow: When do you expect to complete the building?

Millman: The first residents should start moving in in January. 

Thompson D.C. Hotel The Yards
A rendering of the Thompson D.C. Hotel at The Yards

Bisnow: The Yards also has its first hotel coming, the Thompson Hotel, which JW Capital Partners and Geolo Capital are partnering to build, and Danny Meyer is bringing a restaurant concept into the building. What will that component, having a luxury hotel and big-name restaurateur, mean for The Yards? 

Millman: We've heard so many positive things about the architecture of that building, it's very prominent, you see it coming down New Jersey Avenue and a lot of different directions. Studios did a fabulous job. The Danny Meyer concept is just continuing to add to the restaurant offerings in the neighborhood and certainly bringing a New York restaurateur like that to The Yards continues to put The Yards on the map from a dining standpoint. 

Ratner Salzberg: Every other hotel in the area has been a select-service, and the fact Thompson is coming to The Yards tells you The Yards has really reached adulthood. We are a genuine neighborhood, and the heart of the neighborhood is where the first full-service, luxury hotel will be opening in early 2020. 

Vornado head of residential Toby Millman speaking at Bisnow's Multifamily Annual Conference East on Oct. 20, 2016.
Brookfield's Toby Millman speaking at Bisnow's Multifamily Annual Conference East on Oct. 20, 2016.

Bisnow: You signed Chemonics to anchor a new office building at The Yards. Where is that in the development process right now? 

Millman: It broke ground about a month ago, we're doing excavation. That one is targeted to deliver by the end of 2021. We're so excited about that project because it's the first full-sized office building at The Yards. We have our offices one floor above Osteria and the other retailers, but it's the first large-scale office building, and we expect that will drive additional interest in office development on the Yards West portion of the neighborhood. Chemonics signed a full-building lease and we think they're the perfect tenant to be coming to the neighborhood in terms of the type of organization that they are and the type of people that work at Chemonics. It's going to be a really fabulous addition to The Yards. 

Bisnow: What does the signing of a major office tenant to occupy a full building show about how far The Yards has come and how much more of an office destination the neighborhood is today? 

Ratner Salzberg: They were very interested in coming to our neighborhood, and we worked very hard to create the neighborhood. We said from the beginning we wanted to create an authentic D.C. neighborhood. The combination of the park, the restaurants and streetscapes, this is what attracted them to the neighborhood and where they wanted to have their headquarters and unite their Virginia and D.C. offices. They were very excited. I do think this is a statement about The Yards and the neighborhood surrounding The Yards. It has grown exponentially. The Capitol Riverfront is the fastest-growing neighborhood in D.C., and it speaks very highly of the neighborhood the fact that they wanted to put their headquarters there. 

Bisnow: Your long-term plan for The Yards calls for over 1,000 more residential units, 1.5M SF of office and additional retail. Which component of the project do you plan to pursue next after the ones we have discussed that are currently under construction? 

Millman: We have Parcel 1, which is a multifamily site that's just south of the Chemonics building across N Street. That's fully approved, and we'll start construction next year. That will be 379 multifamily units. It's a really cool building. 

Bisnow: Are you still planning to build a movie theater at The Yards? I know you had an agreement with Showplace Icon that is no longer in place. Are you in talks with any other theater operators? 

Millman: We continue to work on that site, the F1 site. Yes, we intend to continue to pursue a theater operator there. 

Bisnow: For most of The Yards' life, the name behind it was Forest City. But last year the company was acquired by Brookfield. What does that acquisition mean for the development and planning of The Yards going forward? 

Ratner Salzberg: The acquisition for The Yards means that it now has more resources to move forward. The size of our development, design and construction staff has more than doubled, it may have tripled. Toby came on since we've been purchased. There has been no change in the desire to move forward with projects at The Yards that make economic sense, which was the same rule under Forest City. We are continuing to move full speed ahead in development and looking at a number of projects in Yards West. The commitment to the city is the same. Our workforce intermediary programs are ongoing. We, Brookfield, are fully moving forward with complete conviction and full speed ahead with what Forest City had committed to the city. Brookfield is equally committed. 

Bisnow: We can't talk about this neighborhood without mentioning that a World Series was played there less than two weeks ago. Did either of you go to the games? What was the atmosphere like in the area? 

Millman: Yeah, I went to a few games. I was lucky enough to be at the Wild Card game and Game 4 of the NLCS where they clinched and went off to the World Series. It's amazing to have the ballpark neighborhood and The Yards so well-positioned to take advantage of that. Right around the ballpark, there's a tremendous amount of intensity with people and the activity there and the people who want to live and work near that. What The Yards offers is being a few blocks away from that, so we're able to tap into the energy of it, but not be right there in the mix. I work and live in The Yards, so I personally love having the ballpark and certainly having the playoffs and being able to participate. 

Ratner Salzberg: It was great. It put a big smile on my face. I went to a number of the games, including the World Series games, and The Yards was amazing. It was abuzz with action. We had watch parties with the BID. We had an incredible number of people in the neighborhood. I went to restaurants before the games that were packed and figuring out how to get people in and out in time to go to the games. The spirit around the neighborhood was incredible and really abuzz. For me, thinking back to Opening Day when the first Nationals game was played in that stadium, and most of the places I looked at where there are now buildings were parking lots. It was incredible. 

Millman: Also, it was really neat listening to the games that I didn't attend and listening to the broadcasters make note of their past visits. National broadcasters were commenting on how much the neighborhood has changed and all the positive changes. They spent time on each broadcast talking about it. 

Ratner Salzberg: We're a neighborhood. It's not just The Yards, we go up to the freeway and over to the ballpark. We are a neighborhood and the whole neighborhood was filled with excitement. It was an amazing place to be for the World Series.

Toby Millman will discuss the neighborhood Nov. 21 at Bisnow's Future of Capitol Riverfront event, held at the Capitol Turnaround event venue at 770 M St. SE.