Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ten Years On, GW Puts Finishing Touches on Palisades Campus

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When George Washington University (GW) acquired the Mount Vernon College for Women in Northwest’s Palisades neighborhood in 1999, they had planned for an extensive build-out of the 134-year-old former seminary that would include 320,000 square feet of new academic and dormitory buildings.

A decade later, GW's satellite campus is co-ed for the first time in its histor
y, but has achieved less than half of the approved additions once intended for the 26-acre campus. Now, with the tenth anniversary of Mount Vernon's incorporation into the University approaching, GW officials have teamed with EE & K Architects to realize the remaining 167,000 square feet of new development for the college at Foxhall Road and Whitehaven Parkway, NW.


The development team – which also includes EDAW, AECOM and VIKA Capitol, LLC – has been holding monthly community meetings to outline their plans for a 2010 Mount Vernon Campus Plan. At present, there are three differently oriented project plans on the table - all of which, however, would achieve the same result: four new academic buildings, ranging from 25,000 to 45,000 square feet; a new 50,000 square foot, 100-bed residential complex; and, lastly, a new three-story gym/sports and recreation center. According to University reps, the idea is to concentrate the new development towards the center of the campus, thereby giving it the bucolic college green feel so rarely afforded to urban universities, and behind Mount Vernon’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it front gate on Whitehaven Parkway.

In order to make way for this slew of new building projects, some of the institution’s 70s-era academic and residential will be razed, in order to free up campus space. Mount Vernon’s Cole Residence Hall, Gatehouse Building, the Webb and Acheson academic buildings, along with a portion of the Ames academic building, are slated for demolition once a final plan is put together.
Upcoming meetings will adhere to a strict outline of community concerns regarding the project. On July 9th, the development team will present their findings on noise, lighting and population counts, to be followed on August 13th by a presentation on landscaping, storm water management and the green building techniques to be employed in the new facilities. The final scheduled meeting is to be held on September 10th, whereupon a final development scheme will be presented to locals and students alike. All meetings are held at 7:30 pm in the Mount Vernon Campus’ Webb Building.

Washington DC real estate development news

Monday, June 29, 2009

JBG Adds More Office to Mega Rockville Development

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If the JBG Companies keeps at this pace, they may want to consider renaming it "JBGville." The prolific DC area developer received approval from the Montgomery County Planning Board last week to pursue a second phase of development at their Fishers Place at Twinbrook Metro - an office park that has already delivered four office buildings to Rockville’s Twinbrook area - but that is merely prologue to the Disney-sized, mixed-use complex going up across the street: Twinbrook Station, or "2.2 million square feet on the redline," as the developer calls it.

The first approved addition for Fishers Place, at 12709 Twinbrook Parkway, will be a four-story, 72,330 square foot, run-of-the-mill office building built in two phases designed around a central courtyard with underground parking. The second and final office addition, at 5615 Fishers Lane, will include 111,000 square feet of office and a micro-retail space, intended for federal tenants, as it "designed to conform to the GSA Force Protection guidelines.”

"The existing buildings in Fishers Place are occupied primarily by government tenants (NIH/FDA), as well as with biosciences-related private sector companies. Potential tenants have expressed interest in the two newly approved buildings, but we’re not in a position to comment further at this time," said Matt Blocher, a Senior Vice President at JBG. "[But the] two buildings most recently approved will complete that campus."

At a community hearing held concerning the dual buildings last July, the County failed to receive a single complaint from neighboring residents. That normally would be considered neighborly relations by the developer (or dumb luck), but for the fact that there aren’t that many neighbors to complain.

That’s because, once completed by 2017, Fishers Place will join the sprawl of JBG’s greater Twinbrook Station across the parkway – a redevelopment project in partnership with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) that will see 26 acres of Twinbrook Metro parking lots transformed into 325,000 square feet of office space, 220,000 square feet of retail and 1,595 apartments and condominiums, 15% of which will be affordable housing. After breaking ground in November of 2007, the project last year earned a LEED gold certification by the US Green Building Council’s Neighborhood Development program. Last time we heard of this much development going up around a subway line, it was called Tokyo.

"The first phase, which is currently under construction, will have 279 apartments and approximately 15,500 square feet of retail ready to open by early to mid-2010," said Blocher.

Among the laundry list of contributors to the JBG/WMATA “smart growth” co-development are the architects Torti Gallas and Partners, DNC, David M. Schwarz, Grimm + Parker, The Preston Partnership, EDAW, Johnson Bernat Associates, Wells + Associates, and MV+A with construction by Harkins Builders. If Rockville Pike is unofficially known as “the world’s longest strip mall,” it looks like Twinbrook Parkway might soon claim the moniker of “world’s largest lump sum community.” Leisure World better watch its back.

Ballpark: Build It and They Will Come, They Might Even Stay

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It's a good thing that the Nationals' standing as perhaps baseball's worst team ever will likely have no effect the residences of the surrounding neighborhood. The Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (BID) has issued its second quarter residential statistics for 2009, showing how desirable the area is to reside in, and it looks like the cliched Costner-ism of "build it and they will come" is working...for some more than others.

EYA's Capitol Quarter townhome development appears to be the leader of the pack of with "88 of 113 (market rate) units sold" - though sales began in the fall of 2006. With prices starting at $630,000, EYA can be content with its position as the only new single-family home project in the area, and their only competition in the area are the dreaded c-word – condominiums – and its Capitol Quarter has generated a slew of favorable media coverage for its tre trendy green construction practices and subsequent “LEED for Homes” certification.

Proof positive that condos are indeed still on the sluggish side, Texas-based developer JPI’s pair of Capitol Riverfront condos. Or at least they were considered as condos before the Big Crash - The Axiom at Capitol Yards, The Jefferson at Capitol Yards and Faison's Onyx on First (pictured) – are now all renting as apartments. But according to the BID, the buildings have achieved 60% occupancy of their collective 960 units. That leaves approximately 384 empty units on the market, despite the fact the first completed building, The Jefferson, opened its doors one year ago this month.

It’s presumably that same dearth of buyers made JPI go rental with their third area building, 909 at Capitol Yards; so far with less success than its predecessors. According to the BID report, only “25% of the 237 units” at 909 – but the project began renting only in the spring of this year. The developer has been trying to court the young, urbanista demographic for the building by advertising amenities like yoga studios, communal Nintendo Wiis and a residents-only bar/pub (which essentially makes it the business model described here). JPI's tentative plans for a fifth and final 415-unit apartment building at 23 Eye Street still remain on the table, at least officially.

Valhal Corporation’s Capitol Hill Tower Condo-op is still trudging along with "80% of 344 units sold." That would seem an admirable rate of occupancy had the building not opened early in 2006, with sales almost a year before that. Not mentioned in the BID stats is the Cohen Companies' Velocity condo project, the 200 unit condo nearing completion, but for which sales are reportedly not, well, high velocity.

Nonetheless, the BID reports that, in total, there are now “an estimated 1,863 residents living in the Capitol Riverfront , with over 2,000 residents expected by the end of the year.” You could be one of the lucky 137 by year's end. Ghost town or boom town? You be the judge.


UPDATE: Says Ted Skirbunt, Director of Research & Information Systems at the BID: "JPI’s buildings were always going to be rental from the beginning. The only building thus far to convert from condos to rental apartments is the Onyx."

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Monty Makes (Another) Go of It in Bethesda

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The would-be developers Monty, LLC will head back to the Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday, July 2nd to shore up their final site plan for The Monty - a high-rise residential project on a 1-acre lot in Bethesda that currently hosts several vacant storefronts from 4915-4917 Fairmont Avenue and 4914-4918 St. Elmo Avenue in the Woodmont Triangle.

Since its initial approval in May 2007, the 17-story residential development has grown (via an update to the developer's plans this past March) from 133 apartments to include "a maximum of 200 units" for a total of 210,188 square feet of new Bethesda real estate. Described by Planning Board staff as "an attractive urban infill redevelopment project,” the project is still planned to subsidize 30 moderately priced dwelling units, 7,700 square feet of ground floor retail and 211 underground garage spaces.

One of the Monty’s more interesting flourishes will be the 5,480 square feet of (mandatory) public use space. A so-called “pedestrian promenade” on the building’s south side will include art installation, composed of a chain link backdrop and live bamboo, by artist Dan Steinhilber and the landscape architects of Parker Rodriguez. Once complete, the piece will “provide an animated experience as a person moves through the space” for a quasi-hallucinogenic stroll that would seem more Burning Man than Bethesda (and make it a sure-fire destination for area Zendik pamphleteers. Eew.) SK & I is performing the architectural design for the building.

Since the first of this year, both the County’s Transportation and Environmental Planning divisions have both lent their final approval to the re-jiggered development scheme, as have Planning Board staff. Though the developer has not stipulated a final timeline for construction, once complete, it will stand directly across from the site of another Woodmont Triangle high-rise, the also delayed 4900 Fairmont development. The project has been approved in the past, but just might possibly happen this time.

Montgomery County real estate development news

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Capitol Hill's Eastern Market Reopens

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Mayor Adrian Fenty and DC officials will cut the ribbon on the new Eastern Market tomorrow (Friday) at 10:30 am. The $22m renovation was completed just over two years after the market was destroyed in a fire in April 2007.

The development team - led by OPM, along with Quinn Evans Architects, the Minkoff Company, Keystone Plus Construction, FEI Construction and The Temple Group, led the construction efforts so that each of market's original vendors can return to their former locations in the building’s Southern Hall, while their temporary domicile across the street is repurposed for community use.

The new Eastern Market will feature, in a first for the 138-year-old building, air conditioning, Wi-Fi, and separate men's and women’s restrooms, not to mention a newly-installed sprinkler system, with the hope that it will prevent the type of incident that led to the market’s shuttering for two plus years. Alas, it just won't seem the same without Michael Jackson.



Another celebration will be held on Saturday, June 27th along an improved 7th Street streetscape, which will be open to traffic Monday through Friday, but closed on weekends for pedestrian use.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

DC Officials Pitch New Plan for Convention Center Hotel

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The DC City Council’s Committee on Economic Development was briefed today on a new scheme devised to underwrite the fully-approved and shovel-ready, if financing challenged, Marriott Marquis Hotel. The city's newest plan for the mostly vacant property next to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center would get construction going by mid-October.

Today’s hearing was spurred by legislation introduced by Mayor Adrian Fenty, himself described as "tired of waiting" on the project, this past spring that would have effectively removed the project’s developer, Quadrangle Development Corporation, and made the new Marriott wholly city-sponsored. In the intervening weeks, officials from the Washington Convention Center Authority (WCCA), the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCF) have been feverishly working on a fiscal reconciliation that would preserve the public-private partnership.

"Given current economic conditions and the lack of liquidity in the capital markets…the District, led by the Washington Convention Center Authority and its partners at Marriott and Quadrangle, was forced to pursue alternative plans, including an option whereby the Authority would finance 100% of the hotel by selling bonds,” said recently appointed (though still unconfirmed) Deputy Mayor Valerie Santos. “We’ve made considerable progress on a new financing proposal, such that the new hotel would once again be largely privately financed.”

The crux of the proposal depends of the Committee’s authorization of an additional $22 million in city-backed debt to get the project going. This deal, presented to the District by the development team only last Thursday, would ensure that more than 60% of the hotel’s $537 million budget come from private funds, with DC footing the bill for the remaining costs. At present, lawyers from the OCF are currently exploring whether the project could also qualify for stimulus funds under the American Investment and Recovery Act, thereby offsetting the District’s burden in a year of record high spending.

The sense of urgency behind the proceedings is well founded, as Greg O’Dell, head of WCSA, said his operation is continually losing business to other comparably-sized convention centers, such as those in Denver and Indianapolis, which have on-site hotels and hospitality amenities. Furthermore, city officials also view continued development at Prince George’s County’s National Harbor as a direct threat to the Convention Center’s revenue stream – a feeling that has only been exacerbated by Disney’s recent announcement that they’ll be building their own mega-hotel/meeting space just across the river. That leaves the District, in the words of Councilman-at-Large Michael Brown, directly “behind the eight ball.”

Both the public and private sides of the development team will now spend the next two weeks finalizing the in-and-outs of their proposal before returning to the Committee on July 14th for a final vote. In the meantime, Committee members repeatedly stressed that the project’s fast track status will not delay other city development in the pipeline or cause any fiscal belt tightening.

“This will not cause us to postpone any projects that are already authorized…Nor will this require expenditures from the general fund. This is not going to be publicly financed deal,” said Committee co-chair and Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans. This would not be the first partnership for Marriott and the developer, Quadrangle and Marriott jointly built a 224 room hotel together in Bethesda in 2004.

Washington DC real estate development news

W Hotel Debuts in DC July 8

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Washington DC's first W Hotel will open to the public on July 8th, the first local opening for the hip hotelier. The international pop luxury chain, operated by Starwood Capital Group, takes the place of the Hotel Washington, once a grande dame of DC hotels but that had become faded and tired before selling in 2006, first for $120 million and then to Istithmar Hotels for $150 million, then closing for renovation in 2007 and selling yet again to Nakheel Hotels. Both Istithmar and Nakheel are partly owned by the government of Dubai.

Starwood will provide 317 rooms and suites, stretched out from the original 400 rooms, retaining the famed 11th-floor rooftop terrace that overlooks Tim Geithner's office, not to mention the White House, in a decidedly more upscale setting - the word "swanky" being all but ubiquitous in reviews of the hotel chain. In keeping with its "category buster" profile, the hotel was re-designed by architect Dianna Wong, a Los Angeleno, who kept many of the original architectural elements while adding such must-haves as a DJ and "digital fireplace," for an appearance that will be "sophisticated and sleek but never trendy."

The hotel renovation, which took 18 months to complete, entailed a complete gut and overhaul, and the new owners "gutted it to the girders," according to Barbara Martin, Director of the Patton Group, a public relations firm. Some original elements of the building such as chandaliers, check-in desks, and archways were taken out, restored and returned to the building, but the rest will be new. The POV (point of view) Lounge on the top floor will operate year-round, with drop-down screens and raised awnings for yet better views of the executive office.

Opening within the hotel will be J&G Steakhouse. Rates available on the W's website start at $289 per night single-occupancy. The hotel was built in 1888 as department store and renovated in 1917 to become the fabled Hotel Washington. The July 8th event will be open to the public.

Bottom rendering courtesy Dianna Wong.

Update: It should also be noted that BBG-BBGM was the architect of record for the redesign of the hotel. BBG-BBGM has designed numerous hotels both locally and internationally, and designed the W Hotel in New York City.

DC Receives Stimulus Funds for Affordable Housing

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The District’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) announced yesterday that their application to the Department of the Treasury for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds has been granted. As a result, the District will be on the receiving end of some $33.7 million worth of stimulus funds that will, in the words of DHCD, "spur the continued development of affordable housing units."

"This new stimulus funding will have an immediate and critical impact on the development and rehabilitation of affordable housing in the District of Columbia. It will help us move forward with affordable housing projects, and it will generate much needed jobs for District residents,” said Mayor Adrian Fenty via press release.

More surprising than the grant its self was the quick turn around on DHCD’s application, which was filed less than two weeks ago on June 9th. However, per the terms of the quickie federal payout, the District has agreed to receive the lump sum grant “to finance construction or acquisition and rehabilitation of…low-income housing in lieu of low-income tax credits.”

DHCD Director Leila Edmonds didn’t specify which projects would be receiving the federal monies, only stating that “funds like these are especially necessary in this difficult financing market.” Probable recipients, however, are likely to include the soon-to-be redeveloped Park Morton public housing complex and the long in-the-works 1600 unit Northwest One development. Expect the subject of the latter to be broached at next month’s meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Economic Development, where the project will be subject to disposition approval resolutions.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Canal Parc Seeks PUD Approval in July

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Willco Residential, LLC and New York-based developers Athena Group will head back before the District of Columbia Zoning Commission next month to hammer out the lingering entitlements stalling their planned residential redevelopment of the Riverside Hospital - an aging psychiatric facility at 4460 MacArthur Boulevard in Northwest DC's Palisades neighborhood.

Long viewed as undesirable element in the affluent community (the hospital last made the news when it was faulted with abuse of a minor in 2007), the development team is hoping to demolish the site and start anew with Canal Parc - 37 brick townhomes, developed via the LEED Neighborhood Development program, to replace the long-term care facility. Little, though, has been heard of the project since a raze application for the hospital was filed last August and Willco Residential President, Gary S. Cohen tells DCmud that his team is still in the midst of negotiating the planned unit development process with city authorities.

“[Right now], we’re trying to get the PUD. When we get the PUD, we’ll move ahead. Right now, we’re still working on the entitlements,” he said. “There’s been action, but the Zoning Commission hasn’t voted on it yet…We’re hoping that at the hearing in July they’ll take the vote. We’ve also been working with the neighborhood and trying to resolve some issues.”

The Office of Planning threw their support behind the project in November 2008, but stopped short of a full-on approval of the site plan due to in-progress talks with the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Department about a turn-around area within the development. Additional issues, mostly stemming from the economy, have kept Canal Parc from heading down the fast track, but Cohen is confident that once the project’s finer details are in place, the market will be receptive to a another residential project.

“I’m looking forward to getting off the ground and starting. I do think that by the time we deliver, the market will be at a better place and there won’t be as much supply because there’s not much between now and the next few years. So I think the timing could work out really well. It’s just a question of getting some the pieces that I don’t necessarily control in their proper place,” he said.

As such, a schedule for demolition and construction of the Lessard Group-designed development has yet to be set in stone, but should be much clearer following next month’s Zoning Commission hearing. “I’m hoping it’s on the sooner side,” said Cohen.

Industry Insight: Paul Robertson of Robertson Development

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With his firm’s tenth anniversary coming up this August, Paul Robertson, the enterprising developer behind such U Street area condominium projects as Moderno, VISIO and MURANO, spoke to DCmud about what it takes to last a decade in the DC development game.

In addition to detailing Robertson Development projects past and present, the company’s founder and president shared his thoughts on butting heads with the DC Water and Sewer Authority (WASA), divulged his newest project and revealed how his firm has just forged a new partnership that will take their work out of the for-sale market and into some surprising new arenas.

How did Robertson Development initially come together?

I started Robertson Development in August of 1999. I had been working for Sallie Mae for about 13 years prior to that, during which time I renovated some DC town homes on the side. Having lived the past 23 years in the U Street corridor, I have seen tremendous development opportunity and progress. I always loved design, real estate, and construction, and I majored in finance so it made sense to get in the business.

In doing my first full renovations, which I ended up living in, I did the plans, pulled the permits and acted as my own general contractor. I just kind of learned things on the fly. I also used to go look at a lot of open houses in the area – still do. I saw a void there and thought there were some things that I could bring the market I didn’t necessarily see.

I networked a lot and found an agent, Ken Taylor, who helped identify two large brick townhomes on the 1400 block of N Street. I ended up buying them and turning them into eight units. That was The Rocco and The Capece. I designed the majority of the floor plans and was the GC and the developer for the project. Terry Sellheim joined the team as VP of Operations and we hired construction staff. It was a tough project to build because we added a floor to the top of each one, and did massive excavation and underpinning to create basement units the full depth of the buildings. It was a very tight sight and a very, very challenging first condo project.

Can you detail some of the projects you have done?

Prior to the completion of The Rocco and Capece, I started The Highland project, which is at 1531-1535 P Street. It is three town homes that we converted into eight units…Then we did our first new construction – again, still operating as the developer and general contractor. I have a Class A general contractor’s license from Virginia – and built Woodson Row on 12th Street, just south of U St. That’s, coincidentally, another eight unit project, but was all new construction – triplexes over duplexes – which was very successful.

At the same time…we put together the two parcels for The Beauregard and bought property to build what became VISIO. The Beauregard was finished a couple of years ago. It’s a 45-unit building with underground parking. Tompkins Builders was the GC. We built VISIO and are now just finishing up MURANO, which is the sister building to VISIO.

Recently, we’ve co-developed Moderno, with Lakritz Adler Development who asked us to join the team early in the design phase. Prior to construction, we assumed the majority of responsibility for the project. My personal residence at the time - in Woodson Row, which is across the street - was used as a model to sell some of the units in pre-construction. The project is complete, and sales have gone amazingly well. Now I’m working as co-developer with Collins Lange Development on a new project called Truxton Row.

Can you tell us a bit more about Truxton Row? Will it be condos as well?

Truxton Row is a 16-unit condo project. Collins Lange asked me to participate, again, in all phases of the development and construction. The first thing was to re-work the floor plans to enhance their functionality and style, which I’m confident added significant value to every unit. The great thing about good design is that it doesn’t really cost anything. It takes effort, time, experience and imagination but the dividends are huge.

The project will be done in two phases; construction has now started on Phase 1. The project has eight town homes, 7 new and 1 renovated. Each home contains two units, most of which are duplexes with a few flats. Many are similar to units at Woodson Row. There are terraces and double-height living rooms and so forth. The exteriors will be very traditional. Despite the trend toward doing “lofts” and ulta-contemporary, the interior finishes will lean more toward a “transitional” and traditional look. It’s going to be very exciting project.

Why the attraction to traditional architecture over say, the glass and steel look that’s so prevalent these days?

We wanted to follow the look of the exteriors and to offer a more refined sophisticated look. It will be great to offer some classic, upscale finishes in new construction. Currently, almost all new construction has a very “contemporary” aesthetic, but that doesn’t appeal to all buyers.

Given that are you are a condo developer, how has the condo decline affected business? Is the DC market as insulated as public perception makes it out to be?

Well, I don’t think it’s insulated because certainly virtually all projects have seen price reductions – although Moderno has fared very well in that regard. But because of the high desirability and significant job creation of the metro area, we haven’t been hurt as badly as some other locations. Washington is still one of the best places to live.

What attracted you to condos? Have you ever considered pursuing a rental project?

Yes, but everything that I have looked at to this point, and actually embarked on, has lent itself more to condominium than it did to rental. Although rental has been hotter in the past year or two, we see small signs that potential new condo projects are becoming more viable again.

Which neighborhoods do you see as ripe for redevelopment? You’ve fared well in some emerging areas, like U Street and Logan Circle.

There’s still plenty of opportunity in the U Street and Shaw area, and certainly Columbia Heights, Brookland and Petworth – that’s where I see it going. But there’s still infill in better neighborhoods. It’s harder to find and certainly harder to find at a price that makes sense, but it’s there.

What are your thoughts on DC development process as a whole? Is there anything you’d like to see change?

I would take whatever steps necessary to significantly reduce the time it takes to get a building permit. They are making strides at DCRA, but, if I were the mayor, that would be a priority because it would really facilitate more development and therefore generate more tax revenue for the city.…Also, I would start an initiative to work the utilities – WASA, Pepco and Washington Gas – even though they’re not governmental agencies…because one still needs to get approvals from those utilities and often times that is a greater challenge than working with DCRA. People tend to focus on the DC government, but what they don’t often realize is the complexity and the time consuming nature of dealing with Pepco, WASA and Washington Gas.

What’s next for Robertson Development?

I’m in talks with a couple of developers about additional co-development projects. One is a mixed-use and the other 100% residential…Both will be in DC. We are really pleased that others seem to recognize the value we can bring to all phases of a project. Of course, we’ve made lots of mistakes, but it helps our partners because we try to help them avoid them in the future.

I should mention also that Robertson Development is branching out and starting another company called Robertson Walsh Design. I’ve partnered with an architect, Brandon Walsh, to start the company. We both love design, space planning, cool materials, et cetera. We are currently doing several projects including designing a vacation home in the mountains of West Virginia and doing a rooftop terrace for the local nightclub, Town. We’ll be launching a website announcing those projects and services very shortly.

If you had a dream project, what would it be? What would satisfy you the most in terms of future development?

I would like to do another project like The Beauregard because, although it is terrific, I have learned lessons from it and other projects that I would love to apply to another “large” building. It’s the challenge of doing something better than the last time, of continuing improvement and refinement. But what is most satisfying is hearing the positive response we get from the people who have bought homes from Robertson Development.

 

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