Executives from MRP Realty joined D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) in a sunny ceremony last week to kick off the company’s NoMa development project, Washington Gateway.
Behind the scenes, however, the seven-year-old District-based company is locking up commitments that could help propel it from a start-up to one of the area’s top locally headquartered real estate firms, with two deals in particular displaying the firm’s ability to attract companies to their properties even as the local leasing market declines.
LMI Government Consulting, a private, nonprofit contractor, is to purchase 150,000 square feet of a building MRP plans in Tysons Corner next to media giant Gannett’s headquarters on Jones Branch Drive. LMI will relocate from 2000 Corporate Ridge in McLean by 2015.
Manik K. Rath, LMI general counsel and senior vice president, said the organization considered many sites, but MRP offered the chance to buy space. “That was a very important deal factor,” he said. “We didn’t want to do just do a lease when there was equity we could own.”
The Institute for Defense Analyses, a nonprofit defense contractor, is negotiating a deal for up to 400,000 square feet at Potomac Yard Town Center in Alexandria, which MRP and the JBG Cos. are developing in a joint venture.
Herman Phillips, a spokesman for IDA, acknowledged the deal is in the works. IDA currently owns and leases space at the Mark Center in Alexandria. “If we move to Potomac Yard, it’s within a mile of two Metro stops, whether Crystal City or Braddock Road,” Phillips said.
MRP executive Robert J. Murphy declined to comment on either deal. But they represent the latest in a string of scores he and his partners — Ryan K. Wade and Frederick W. Rothmeijer — have landed after departing the local offices of Trammell Crow, the Dallas-based real estate giant. Fourth partner J. Richard Saas, an attorney, had been an outside counsel for Trammell Crow.
Not yet three years old when the financial crisis hit, MRP faced few major loan obligations when cash ran short and, with backing from New York-based Angelo Gordon & Co., bought two Virginia office buildings in 2009: the Hartford Building in Clarendon, for $71.5 million, and Monument III, near Dulles International Airport, for $51 million.
Seventeen months later, after minimal work to the Hartford Building, MRP and Angelo flipped it for $112.6 million. Warren Dahlstrom, who brokered the sale to MRP, called it, “one of the great buys of this last cycle.” MRP and Angelo sold Monument III for $71 million in the fall of last year, a $20 million markup in a two-year span.
Dahlstrom said MRP has quickly become known for aggressive and feverish research. “They run a due diligence that is amazing,” he said.
Murphy and Wade weren’t sure the company would persevere through the financial collapse. The partners stopped investing in 2007 and in late 2008, after Lehman Bros. filed for bankruptcy, met at Murphy’s condo and considered how long they could last with the cash they had on hand. A loan on Potomac Yard, which MRP purchased with Rockpoint Group, was badly under water. “The banks were all looking at us, saying ‘Are you leaving?’ We didn’t know if we’d have jobs tomorrow,” Murphy said. MRP cut its staff to 12 by the end of 2009.
The blockbuster deals brought them back, however, and MRP has subsequently created a residential unit and grown its staff to 50. It invests with backers including Angelo Gordon, Rockpoint and Cornerstone Real Estate Advisors (a subsidiary of Mass Mutual Insurance), putting up its own cash for 2 to 10 percent of deals. In Georgetown, MRP bought Washington Harbour, which it is refurbishing, and plans a bid for the West End Heating Plant.
MRP even retained a stake in Potomac Yard by partnering with JBG, the biggest of the Washington-based real estate firms. Though MRP is sometimes compared to Monument Realty, another aggressive District firm, JBG is the one Wade has in his sights. “We think there’s a nice spot between JBG and everybody else,” he said.