A Family Company, Forest City, Sets Out to Transform the District
Monday, January 1, 2007
The largest owner of land around the Southwest and Southeast waterfronts -- neighborhoods crucial to the District's vision of its future self -- is an $8.5 billion company that traces its roots to a Cleveland lumberyard opened in 1921.
Forest City Enterprises owns, manages and develops almost 24 million square feet of hotels, offices and shopping malls in 25 states. In the District, the company owns about 90 acres at three major Southwest and Southeast projects where it plans to invest roughly $3 billion into a mix of parks, housing, shops, restaurants and offices. And it is one of the developers working on transforming the land around the new baseball stadium -- now mostly boarded-up storefronts, car-repair garages and nightclubs -- into a vibrant neighborhood.
"We got into Washington because we believe in cities," said Deborah Ratner Salzberg, granddaughter of one of the firm's founders and head of the company's Washington operations. "We believe in redeveloping cores of existing cities. We look for underutilized areas where we can make a difference. We felt these are areas that fit that."
A former trial lawyer for the Department of Justice, Salzberg has lived in the Washington area since the 1980s. The company has been building projects in Washington over the last two decades, including Ballston Common Mall in Arlington and rental apartments in Rockville, and in the past five years has focused on making Washington one of its major development markets.
Salzberg's right-hand man and chief operating officer, Thomas W. Henneberry, was involved in the development of Jacobs Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, which helped revitalize Cleveland's downtown. He came to Forest City four years ago from Cleveland's Jacobs Group development firm.
Henneberry took an active role organizing plans for development around the Nationals' baseball stadium, working with other major developers such as Western Development and Monument Realty, both of the District, and Baltimore-based Cordish. The developers first cooperated to come up with an overall vision, and each is now moving on its own projects.
"Looking at the river here, it is a totally underutilized area," Salzberg said. "We thought this would be a wonderful area for new population and growth."
The 42-acre Southeast Federal Center site today is an area of old warehouses, parking lots and weeds along the Anacostia River. It sits next to the Navy Yard and the new Department of Transportation headquarters.
The site was once part of the Navy Yard. Anchors, chains and boilers for ships were made there in the 18th and 19th centuries and guns and ammunition during World Wars I and II, according to the developer.
Over the next decade, Forest City plans to build an almost $2 billion development of 6 million square feet -- a space almost as large as the Pentagon. Its plans call for preserving the historic buildings and turning a boilermaker shop into a retail area, creating apartments from a former carpentry building and converting an old gun mount factory into condominiums. It will also put in streets, offices, lofts and waterfront parks. In tribute to its Navy history, the project will be called the Yards.
"You can create a very active, lively area," Salzberg said, as she walked the property. "It really will be a mixed environment that looks like it's been here forever. It won't look like Disneyland. It will be a little edgy and have the feel of the waterfront."
Just across the street, Forest City, with another partner, Mid-City Urban of Silver Spring, has torn down the former public housing complex of Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg and is replacing the brick barrack-style buildings with 1,600 townhouses and mid-rise apartments, condominiums and senior housing.