The Chevy Chase Land Co., which yesterday announced the last four tenants for its luxury Friendship Heights development, said it now plans to transform an older shopping center on upper Connecticut Avenue into a modern retail and office complex.
The seven-acre complex around the company's headquarters near Jones Bridge Road looks more like a throwback to the 1950s than a prime retail site along a major thoroughfare. Anchored by the independent Chevy Chase Supermarket and a 95-year-old lumberyard, it has been an anomaly in a wealthy residential area that has plenty of mansions but none of the glitzy new retail developments that have sprouted up in other suburbs around Washington.
The development firm has owned much of the land around that center for more than 100 years and over the past few years has assembled all the parcels needed to create a unified retail development. In September, it won approval from Montgomery County planning officials for a 250,000-square-foot mixed-use development on the seven-acre site -- a preliminary size that could grow or shrink.
"It's going to be a big center," said Edward Hall Asher, president of Chevy Chase Land, adding that the landmark lumberyard TW Perry would have to move when its lease is up in 2008. Company officials said that the future of other tenants, whose leases also expire then, has not been discussed and that the site has not been marketed yet.
"We do not have a start date," said Michele Horwitz Cornwell, senior vice president of the development firm. "We're a small company. The first thing we have to do is finish Chevy Chase Center, then we'll turn our attention to our next project."
Chevy Chase Center is the nearly finished complex along Wisconsin Avenue where the developer has built a luxury retail center to house some of the most high-end stores in the nation. To its roster of incoming tenants, the company yesterday announced it will add Jimmy Choo, Bulgari, Gucci and the newest concept of the day spa, Georgette Klinger, which is relocating from a block away.
The center already has Dior, Ralph Lauren, Barney's New York Co-Op, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, MaxMara and Cartier. Some retailers will open soon -- Dior will be first to open, next week -- but others are waiting until after Christmas.
"It's going to bring in a lot of people that heretofore have flown to New York to go shopping," Asher said.
The project has been a long time in the works, with Chevy Chase Land planning 10 years ago to put in a less-upscale "lifestyle" retail development. But high-end retail chains have been among the best performers in recent years, so the plans were changed. It has been worth the wait: Asher said the top rent at the center is $150 a square foot, which is double the highest rent for a retailer he had ever seen in the Washington area.
"There's tons of money in Washington, and there's tons of retail demand, especially there," said Maury W. Levin, a retail broker and developer with KLNB Inc. "Almost anywhere you go, high-end retail is selling right now. Those retailers are all looking for somewhere to go."
But news of the development along Connecticut Avenue, just a half-mile inside the Beltway, is what has retail brokers in the area excited.
"It's an extremely high-profile site. Everybody's had their eye on it for a long time," said David A. Ward, a broker with H&R Retail Inc. "It's in the middle of a phenomenal neighborhood. You have tons of people living there with extremely high income levels, and it's on a road with a ton of traffic."
That traffic could also create problems for the developer, which may be opposed by neighbors who already have one anti-development victory under their belts. In the early 1990s, residents fought hard to prevent the headquarters of the Pan American Health Organization from moving to an adjacent site at Connecticut Avenue and Jones Bridge Road. That fight went all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, where the neighborhood prevailed. Eventually, single-family homes were built there.
The owners of TW Perry and Chevy Chase Supermarket did not return phone calls seeking comment. At a children's boutique across the street from the lumberyard, land also owned by the developer, a store manager said she had long heard of the plans but did not want to see too much change.
"We'd really rather see it stay low-key than have anything too flashy. We want to maintain the atmosphere of the neighborhood," said Toni Roddy, manager of the Lemondrop.
Staff writer Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.
Liz Wilson and son Matthew shopped at the Chevy Chase Supermarket in 2003. It's in a shopping center the Chevy Chase Land Co. plans to redevelop.