A month after it opened, JBG and its partner, MacFarlane Partners, sold their stake for $200 million to a Chicago private equity firm.
On track with Tysons
In many ways the transformation of White Flint runs on a parallel track to that of Tysons Corner. Although Tysons is much larger in land size and will have three more Metro stations than White Flint, both areas have urban-oriented master plans, both require expensive transportation improvements and both are being counted on to drive their respective county governments into financial stability.
A slew of developers — B.F. Saul, Federal Realty, LCOR and Lerner among them — own major stakes in both areas.
But there is also one big difference, developers say: Everyone is getting along better in White Flint. The major landowners of White Flint formed the White Flint Partnership and went to bat for a plan that would allow all of them more density. On top of that, they all agreed to tax themselves an extra 10 percent to pay for a street grid and a redesign of Rockville Pike that could accommodate public transportation, but they have avoided the sort of affordable housing requirements that have been put in place in Tysons.
They all happily pat one another on the back.
“Each one has contributed just a tremendous amount of time and energy in creating this vision, and frankly I think the product will reflect that effort,” said Francine Waters of Lerner Enterprises.
“By working together we really have the ability to create grids of streets, create infrastructure,” Federal Realty’s Evan Goldman said.
“I’ve been doing development now for almost 30 years, and I have never seen ... so many competitors sit down and work for a common goal,” said Robert Wulff of B.F. Saul. “Very rare.”
Friendly to feisty
Soon the White Flint land owners may be moving from comrades to competitors as they chase many of the same apartment renters, office tenants, condo buyers, shoppers and, in some cases, financing partners or buyers.
Three development teams have begun seeking zoning changes for their developments, and at a time when retail expansion is slow, entertainment could take center stage.
Federal Realty, for instance, has submitted a plan for the first phase of redevelopment of its Mid-Pike Plaza shopping center into a mixed-use project called Pike & Rose. A luxury movie theater will serve as its anchor.
JBG, meanwhile, has submitted plans for North Bethesda II, the phase to follow the Whole Foods project. JBG Rosenfeld’s Grant Ehat would not disclose specific retail plans for North Bethesda II, but he hinted that “people will always want to have a place where they can gather, get together, meet, see a movie, see a show.”
Other developers are moving more cautiously. Wulff confirmed that B.F. Saul is assembling land, but he declined to elaborate on deals that were not fully complete. “We are positioning ourselves for when the market signals that it is ready to redevelop,” he said.
Michael J. Smith, vice president at LCOR, said the company plans to break ground on a 341-unit apartment building, the Aurora, by the end of the year, with completion scheduled for early 2015. LCOR has nearly completed a 14-story office tower for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The elephant in the room may be White Flint mall, jointly owned by Lerner Enterprises and the Tower Cos., anchored by Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor and its own movie theater.
Waters, managing director of transportation and smart growth for Lerner Enterprises, said plans for the mall would include a mix of uses and public open space. She would not say whether the companies would propose demolishing all or part of the mall, but said they plan to seek zoning changes in coming months.
Whether sufficient incentives exist right now for Lerner and Tower to redevelop the mall is unclear. But given the pace of development at Bethesda Row, they have time.