Robert D. Holland and Bruce D. Lyons studied real estate at American University in the 1960s, became partners in 1970 and several years later began to make a name for themselves as restorers of property and condominium converters of apartment buildings here.
Now, in their mid-30s, the two are leaving their corporate mark from Capitol Hill to the Georgetown waterfront, where they are developing a major residential project called the Paper Mill.
The founders of Holland & Lyons Associates Inc. also are involved in construction, deals for foreign investors, property management, an auto dealership in Annapolis, gas field investment in West Virginia and an international travel business. They are bidding for a major residential renewal project on the Baltimore waterfront and have branched out in this area with a brokerage office in Gaithersburg. They have no plans to bring major league baseball back to Washington.
Skeptics might dismiss the realty ascendency of the two brash, trendspotters as the project of a hot market and a fortuitous association with millionaire investor Warren Avis. But the competition has had to acknowledge that, early in the game, Holland and Lyons demonstrated a capability for in-town restoration and apartment conversion.
It was their marketing savvy that convinced investor Avis (formerly head of the try-harder rental car firm) to put his money behind them.
Are Holland and Lyons (with angel Avis in the backdrop) for real? So far, they've done what they've set out to do and they haven't stopped moving.
"Lenders know who we are now and they don't put us on hold any more," says Lyons, who is the money-minded, construction-oriented member of the team.
"We don't want to do boring things. We believe many people want to have the things that wealthy people have and yet we are not trying to invent the Studebaker."
Holland interjects: "As times change, we want to think we can change too. We do not want to be typecast, even though we've become wellknown as in-town real estate developers . . . We soon may be building subway-oriented housing for people in Montgomery County." He adds that memories of the housing recession of the mid-1970s have prompted them to diversify.
Holand and Lyons interrupt one another repeatedly but manage to get along. One observer said: "Obviously they're opposites who have struck a common ground."
That ground is real estate.
The Holland and Lyons team has converted an old mansion in the 2000 block of O Street NW into a condominium building and has done the same for the 4701 Connecticut apartments. They also built the Potomac Overlook condominiums at 1318 22d St. NW and have been responsible for small conversions and developments elsewhere as well as the sales of other projects.
Their biggest project, to date, is the $20 million Paper Mill redevelopment project in Georgetown just south of the C&O Canal, west of Wisconsin Avenue and north of lower K Street. It's a complex of new town houses, restored apartments in an old mill building and an underground garage for 250 cars.
"These fellows demonstrated an ability to create and market small, 12-foot-wide town houses at $115 a square foot and pre-sell the first group of 30 within a few days," said their new partner, Douglas Miner, chief of operations. Miner, who joined them after the project was conceived, formerly worked for Avis Enterprises in Detroit.
Bob Holland grew up in Wisconsin, but his father, a nuclear physicist, came to Washington in time for Bob to go to AU. He sold subdivision houses before teaming up with Lyons. Bruce Lyons grew up here and once worked for his father, Daniel M. Lyons, a builder and a managing trustee of Federal Realty Investment Trust.
Miner, Holland and Lyons live with their families in restored houses in the 2000 block of O Street NW.
Miner, who has a background in real estate and finance, said that the firm is completing 101 town houses at Paper Mill and will start 70 condominium apartments there in June.
The main Holland and Lyons office is in an old tower called the Powerhouse. Located at 3225 Grace St. NW next to the C&O Canal, the refurbished office also is a display center for Paper Mill and for the nearby Georgetown Park commercial redevelopment by Western Development Inc. The Holland and Lyons firm plans to move to a larger building on the site and has put a $1 million price tag on the Powerhouse.
Meanwhile, the international investments branch of the Holland and Lyons operation has just arranged the purchase of the Barbizon Terrace, 2118 Wyoming Ave. NW, from the estate of the late developer Walter Hodges. Holland said a group of Belgian investors has bought the 78-room, 10-year old building for about $1.5 million and plans to make suites out of the small rooms. Renovation work is scheduled to begin next month.
Decisions to expand and diversify have been made consciously by Bob Holland, Bruce Lyons and Doug Miner. They are convinced that any one specialized business could be hurt in an economic squeeze but that interests in a variety of undertakings should protect them. They have told previous interviewers that they will not pyramid one project on top of another to keep going, and that each project has its own investors and stands on its own. They are conscious of the fast-growing, gung-ho developer syndrome that shot down other rising realty stars who overextended themselves.
The firm now has 125 persons on its payroll and has no plans to stand still. But the partners feel that the bloom has been taken from the condominium conversion market in the District and that it's time to think about creating homes for young, second-time buyers who want to be near Metro stations.
"Metro is big in our thinking for future development," said Holland, whose speciality is looking ahead at market trends. "But we're also seeing hyper-inflation that makes it difficult to do a good in-town residential redevelopment in today's market," Miner added.
Lyons said that the firm has made a proposal for redevelopment rights on Pier 4 in Baltimore's inner harbor. "We want to convert three inter-connected old buildings that are now a dormant power plant site," he said. The firm wants to create 191 residential unites with commercial and recreation spaces "to serve what is expected to be a revived waterfront area of Baltimore," he said.
The firm has also purchased the Travel Time agency, renamed it SIVA Travel, and plans to reopen it next week at 1825 K St. NW. Costal Motors is a recent acquisition on West Street in Annapolis, where a new realty office and a marina operation are also in the offing.
"We think we know what we're doing and we do not discount the volatile state of the economy and the energy crunch," Holland said. "Only time will tell if we' e right." CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Top, completed town houses in the Holland and Lyons project, the Paper Mill. Bottom, Robert Holland, Bruce Lyons and Doug Miner in their office. Photos by Douglas Chevalier-The Washington Post; Picture 3, The Holland and Lyons firm converted this building at 2007 O St. NW to condominium ownership. By Doug Chevalier-The Washington Post