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D.C.-centric developer turns focus to Virginia

Arlington, VA.- DEC.1, 2010: Developer Jair Lynch stands in front of new acquisition, The Abingdon House apartments in Arlington, VA, his company's first property outside the District of Columbia for his firm, on Dec.1 , 2010 ( Photo by Jeffrey MacMillan )
Arlington, VA.- DEC.1, 2010: Developer Jair Lynch stands in front of new acquisition, The Abingdon House apartments in Arlington, VA, his company's first property outside the District of Columbia for his firm, on Dec.1 , 2010 ( Photo by Jeffrey MacMillan ) (Jeffrey Macmillan - Jeffrey Macmillan For Washington)

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By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, December 6, 2010

Jair Lynch has developed just about every type of building that makes up D.C. neighborhoods, including condos, apartments, retail, schools, libraries, recreation centers and health clinics.

Now he is ready to head somewhere new: Arlington.

Lynch is a man of the District. He grew up in the Shepherd Park neighborhood in Northwest Washington and represented the city as a silver medal-winning gymnast in the 1996 Summer Olympics. As a developer, he keeps his offices on U Street, has provided millions of dollars of development services for the city and is a frequent bidder on its public-private projects.

Last week Lynch took a step to expand the scope of his 12-year-old development firm, spending more than $20 million to acquire the 82-unit, seven-story Abingdon House apartment complex in Aurora Hills, near Crystal City. The move is a chance for him to leverage his experience in what he calls "stage three or four" neighborhoods, those that aren't abjectly vacant of amenities (stage one) or flush with them (stage five).

He says the neighborhood is ripe because Arlington plans to transform nearby Crystal City into a more walkable, dense place. That puts it on a list of markets with progressive zoning and Metrorail service that Lynch says will end the District's corner on the market for enticing urban neighborhoods. "These inner-ring suburbs are going to need to reinvent themselves," he said.

Lynch formed Jair Lynch Development Partners in 1998. Over the years the firm has won millions of dollars in contracts to manage city construction projects.

"Jair demonstrated a really acute business sense," said Neil Albert, the District's city administrator. When Albert ran the city's parks department under Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Lynch was hired to manage a $50 million to $100 million development program for the agency. Albert said that Lynch grew his business in manageable strides, hired professionals and never overlooked details. "He was humble enough to be in every one of those briefings rather than just send staff," Albert said.

Soon major developers began bringing Lynch on as a partner. William C. Smith + Co. and Lynch teamed on Northwest One, a housing development planned for North Capitol Street.

"I think what strikes me the most about Jair is that he comes to every meeting prepared to do business and be productive," said Smith chief executive Chris Smith. "There is not interest on his part to sit around and talk about the deal that almost happened. That's not in his vocabulary. He is all about 'how do we execute.'"

Lynch further distinguished himself two years ago when real estate magnate Victor MacFarlane put together a $120 million fund to back Jair Lynch Development Partners, allowing it to buy development sites and operating assets like the Abingdon complex. Though MacFarlane sold his interest in the D.C. United soccer team, Lynch says the fund is fully active.

It might appear strange to see Lynch and MacFarlane, two African American developers deeply committed to urban revitalization, focused on the Crystal City area. But Lynch says he's still on the same mission -- the transformation of urban markets -- and that doesn't have to mean the District. In fact, he says that if his hometown doesn't continue to improve and grow its neighborhoods, it will get left behind. "Just like the suburbs kicked our butt on retail in the 1980s, that's exactly what's going to happen with these transit-oriented, urban neighborhoods that are coming up now," he warned. "That we're going to get our butts kicked again."

Lynch has been criticized by competitors and others for relying too heavily on political connections to build his business.

"This is not traditionally an entrepreneurial town, and so the few people who break out of being a micro business or a small business we always question why and how," Lynch said. "And I think we have a very solid story and a very deliberate strategy in terms of how we grow the business, and we just don't have a lot of places in D.C. where we celebrate that."


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