Behind Georgetown Day School deals, a roster of real estate aces

If the volunteers who guided Georgetown Day School in executing a massive campus expansion plan last week ever decided to create their own real estate firm, it would likely be a formidable — if not downright intimidating — player in Washington’s already competitive commercial real estate scene.

Start with Michael J. Glosserman. At 68, Glosserman is the elder statesman of perhaps the area’s most dominant development firm, the JBG Cos., a company that is simultaneously building new apartments up and down the U Street corridor, overhauling L’Enfant Plaza and constructing a trophy office tower two blocks from the White House.


Michael J. Glosserman, managing partner of the JBG Cos. (Paul Morigi)

Add Reid Liffmann, a day school parent and senior real estate executive at New York-based Angelo Gordon & Co., a firm that manages $25 billion in assets. Angelo Gordon, often with little fanfare, has been one of the more aggressive deal makers in Washington since the recession, on projects including the redevelopment of the Shops at Georgetown Park.

Lets not also forget Marc Glosserman, son of Michael and chief executive of the New York-based restaurant company that owns the Penn Quarter restaurant Hill Country.

Given such advisers, whatever sense of surprise the private school of 1,070 students created last week in announcing its $40 million purchase of both the Tenleytown Safeway site and the former Martens Volvo/Volkswagen car dealership property, perhaps was unwarranted.

Glosserman, whose company invests hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate projects for investors such as Yale University’s endowment, personally conducted negotiations to acquire the Safeway store, coaxing the grocer’s executives to sell even though they had spent more than three years (and likely hundreds of thousands of dollars) pursuing plans to redevelop the property.

The Safeway team had gone so far as to engage one of the region’s most accomplished home builders, Bozzuto Group of Greenbelt.

Instead, they called it all off to sell the property to Georgetown Day so it could consolidate its lower, middle and upper schools in Tenleytown. At the moment the school’s lower and middle schools are on MacArthur Blvd., about four miles away.

Glosserman was circumspect in describing how the group pulled off the coup: “They indicated that if we could agree on a price and a schedule that they would be willing to work with us.”

Glosserman’s sons Marc and Scott both attended the school and in the past he has served on the board of trustees. He said the deal had no connection whatsoever to his work at JBG. “I just love the institution and I’ve helped them any way I could,” he said.

Real estate is far from the only area of expertise among current and former members of the school’s board. A hefty political team could likely be assembled as well, from the likes of Jennifer Klein, a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, and Monica Dixon, former deputy chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore, both current trustees. 

“We have a lot of incredibly generous people helping our little school,” said school spokeswoman Alison Grasheim.

Completing two such prominent purchases in such a clandestine manner, particularly in this tony corner of Northwest Washington where homes that often sell for more than $1 million, would have been a tall order for a less accomplished group.

One of the residential developers closest to Safeway Marc Dubick, said he was stunned by Safeway’s decision to sell. He is working with the chain to redevelop its Palisades stores into a mixed-use project and days before the sales were announced joined Safeway officials for a publicity tour of a nearly completed apartment-and-grocery store project in Petworth.

“Did they really sell that store?” he asked a reporter, twice, after being informed of the deal.

Further challenges lie ahead for the school as its pursues a consolidation in Tenleytown, including the possible closure of a MacArthur Boulevard campus where its lower and middle schools operate.

The school’s leadership is still in the early stages of planning for the two Tenleytown properties but is contemplating a mix of uses for the dealership site that could include for-profit retail businesses that might provide a revenue stream for the school.

Ellen McCarthy, interim director of planning under D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, said it was too early to tell from the District’s perspective what might make the best use for the properties but that such transit-accessible locations typically benefit from having sidewalk  retail. “We always want to include residential and ground floor retail near Metro stations so we hope there is some consideration of that,” she said.

Glosserman said he will remain on hand there to help. “To the extent that there can be an opportunity for the school to offset the cost of the school facilities with something there, we’ll try to do that, but a lot of that is still to be decided,” he said.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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