Last night, the Citizens Association of Georgetown held its September meeting at the Thomas Moser store on M St. Georgetowner and real estate magnate Anthony Lanier held court for the entirety of the meeting dispensing his wisdom and world view to the packed furniture show room.
A native of Vienna (Austria, not Virginia), Lanier arrived to Georgetown in the 80′s. He founded East Banc in 1987, and has since then gradually brought the best of European urbanism to our village through fantastic projects like Cady’s Alley.
Last night, Lanier spoke off-the-cuff for over an hour discussing his projects, both past and future, and the challenges we face making Georgetown even better. It was a fascinating window into the business of real estate and the thinking of a man who’s been called more than once the “Mayor of Georgetown”.
Don’t Want To Drive
Right off the bat, it’s clear that Lanier is a card-carrying urbanist. He appears to have an almost visceral dislike of driving and believes his developments (and Georgetown generally) should be built with the principal that everything you need is in reach without having to resort to an car trip to the suburbs. In fact, Lanier showed an antagonism for cars that would even make GGW blush a bit. He bemoaned the “6-lane highway” through the heart of Georgetown (M St.) and at one point mentioned that if he could get his way there’d be “no more parking, no more cars”. As an urbanist himself, GM is happy to see someone with a hell of a lot more money and influence share his views.
Hey Mister Postman
Lanier gave the crowd an update on the proposal to turn part of the Georgetown post office into condos. According to him, the Postal Service approached him with the proposal, in part due to the massive deficit the agency is facing. Lanier says that they have a “philosophical agreement” to develop the basement, second floor and parking lot into residential units, but nothing is concrete. He promised that if the plan does move forward it will be “exciting” but Georgetowner’s experience with the post office itself will be unchanged.
As you may know, Lanier is enmeshed in a legal dispute over the ownership of the Georgetown Park mall with Georgetown’s other big fish real estate developer: Herb Miller. Right now it appears that Miller has the upper-hand, but Lanier stated that he still thinks he has a strong legal argument and believes he will eventually take over the mall. He described what he would do with the mall if he were to take control. He wants to essentially take the Cady’s Alley model and blow it up. He’d take off the glass roof and open up the interior of the mall to the elements. It would essentially create an alleyway retail district like you find all over his native Vienna. It’s an intriguing plan.
What Ails Us
It’s clear that Lanier has thought long and hard about the retail environment in Georgetown. One point he repeatedly stressed was the relationship between building owners who think their properties are worth pie-in-the-sky numbers, suckers (particularly New Yorkers) who pay that price, and the introduction of chains. He discussed buying two identical buildings, one for several hundred thousand and the other for several million. When buildings even simply advertise a high price, it can inspire other land lords to do the same. He says it gets particularly bad when a family owns the building. He amusingly noted that there’s a direct relationship between the price of a building and the number of signatures needed.
What East Banc Looks For
According to Lanier, what he looks for in a potential tenant is as follows:
- Retailers that succeed
- How do the customers get there? With descending priorities on walking, biking, then driving.
- Something that’s not replicated in places like Tysons.
He’ll keep a lease reasonable for a tenant he likes (e.g. our host Thomas Moser) and reject a lucrative offer if he doesn’t like them (e.g. CVS has offered well above market rates to move in next door to North Face; East Banc has repeatedly told them no).
While CAG has not always been on board with a lot of the ideals at the heart of Lanier’s world view (namely that getting rid of parking spaces is actually a good thing), the crowd was nonetheless rapt with attention throughout the speech and Q&A session.