At last month’s ANC meeting, one developer had three significant projects up for review. It would come as no surprise to anyone watching the Georgetown real estate market that that developer was EastBanc. Started in 1996, EastBanc has built a real estate empire centered squarely in Georgetown. And with every passing year and every approved project, the future of EastBanc and Georgetown have become more and more entwined.
Even for EastBanc, last month’s ANC agenda was significant. They are proposing to build a condo building where the Key Bridge Exxon stands, build a massive stone building on the parking lot of the Verizon building, and build condos behind the post office. While there are other developers working in Georgetown (for instance Argos Group is converting the Hurt Home into condos) none is having an impact on the neighborhood as noticeable as EastBanc.
Yesterday, the Washington Post took note of this. Columnist Thomas Heath wrote:
Washington developer, technology entrepreneur, restaurateur and nightclub owner Anthony Lanier prompted me to look at real estate differently when he explained the business discipline that built a Georgetown barony that occupies 60 buildings and enough square footage to fill eight football fields.
“We built a conveyor belt for renovation,” said Lanier (pronounced lon-YAY), 59, explaining the methodology that turned dilapidated townhouses into profitable stores and offices.
Lanier’s assembly line was made up of engineers, architects, historical preservation specialists, zoning lawyers and construction firms that could pump out renovated buildings one after another.
Heath then described the early investments of Lanier, including its first purchase at 3060 M St. (which is actually the now empty Ritz Camera store). From there, they slowly worked their way down M St. (and beyond) buying up distressed or run-down properties, fixing them up, and bringing in higher-end tenants. Fifty-eight buildings later, EastBanc has left its impression on the neighborhood.
What are some examples of that impact? The most impressive is Cady’s Alley. Cobbled together over the early 00’s, Cady’s Alley is a wonderful amalgam of the old and the new. This is a central trait of the EastBanc brand: historic bones filled in with airy European modernism. This style was continued in the chic new Ritz-Carlton on South St. and the 3303 Water St. apartment building. The new spaces for CitySports and the North Face also reflect this brand. Less impressive from an architectural standpoint, but nonetheless indicative of its reach, the company owns, among other properties, the buildings housing (or soon to house) CB2, Brooks Brothers, Madewell, Thos. Moser, and MAC (soon to be Rag & Bone). According to a NY Times article, as of 2005 they already controlled 10 percent of the total retail property in Georgetown.
And now with three large scale projects on the horizon, EastBanc’s brand is growing an even larger footprint in the neighborhood. But even with those three projects, EastBanc looks like it will be denied its coup de grace: the Georgetown mall. It’s not final, but it appears as if EastBanc’s litigation against Western Development will be unable to dislodge the mall from its new owner’s grasp. That’s a shame, because Lanier has discussed some pretty revolutionary plans for the property. They would transform it into an outdoor arcade, a Cady’s Alley on steroids so to speak.
EastBanc is hardly perfect. They erected billboards on empty buildings and simply paid the cheap fine rather than take them down promptly. They’ve been fined for illegally destroying some original building material. Also, regardless of the merit of their claims or their proposed design, the litigation with Western Development has absolutely hobbled the mall and has significantly contributed to its decline. Plus, the early designs of the proposed Key Bridge condos and the Verizon condos are less than impressive.
But the thing is, most of what EastBanc does is really, really good. Some object to any new condos (Dave Roffman is a big critic on this point), yet in GM’s opinion the more people who live in Georgetown, the better. It increases the city’s tax base, increases the foot traffic in our stores, and has generally led to increases in mass transit usage (and will ultimately lead to more mass transit options to meet that increased demand).
Furthermore, EastBanc has put forward a design vision that respects Georgetown’s historic nature but boldly embraces modernism. That sort of fearless vision dominates European architecture and explains why cities with significantly more history than DC are not afraid to merge historical structures with modern elements. Take a trip to Lanier’s childhood home of Vienna sometime and see how well they blend the old and the new.
And perhaps most importantly of all, no other company is proposing a competing vision for the neighborhood. Sure, some companies have a project or two in the neighborhood, but with little design cohesion. EastBanc has a vision for the neighborhood. And whether you like it, or not, it is slowly taking over the neighborhood.