Monday, April 19, 2010

Warehouse Districts Pose Opportunity

Washington, DC (my hometown of many decades, now) didn't have much of an industrial past. At one point, The National Mall -- the space between the Capitol and the Washington Monument and on to the Lincoln Memorial, now park space surrounded largely by Smithsonian and other public/private museums -- was a mishmash of industrial and commercial interests, from lumber yards to even brothels, we're told. But that time is long gone and the revolution that changed the landscapes of nearby cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Richmond left our government-centric city unadorned by the warehouses that dot so many of our Mid-Atlantic/Northeastern cities.

Those now aging (and often neglected) structures have turned into a tremendous opportunity for urban developers and residents clamoring to embrace all that city life has to offer. As developers, we get the satisfaction of knowing we're preserving the historic and architectural integrity of our cities (and, frankly, not merely bulldozing over these resource-rich buildings that are often physically stronger than many of today's modern structures; they were 'built tough' -- likely to withstand potential wartime bombings). And residents are enjoying a renaissance in apartment/condo design as warehouse lofts take advantage of architectural features that can mean vastly more space, light and views than most new multifamily housing options.

With a partner down in Richmond, we just finished The Altamont in the city's historic Scott's Addition neighborhood. An old Breyer's Ice Cream factory, the space was easily converted into lofts that are amid what is now a bustling reclaimed urban center. It's been exciting to watch the transformation.

In Washington, our historic renovation and urban renewal opportunities are equally focused on revitalizing aging neighborhoods and neglected structures -- just without the warehouses. Here's a peak at a work in progress in historic Georgetown -- a 19th century townhouse we hope to have ready for sale by summer.

Economy aside (this too shall pass), it's a fascinating time to be a developer. We've gone from ignoring these urban and industrial properties to embracing them for their history, architectural integrity and energy. It's a worthwhile effort on so many fronts; and it's renewed my enthusiasm about the business.