The Bass family, the Fort Worth billionaires with oil riches and investments in everything from Disneyland to fast-food fried chicken restaurants, is apparently making a major move into the Washington area development market.
Robert Bass, 36, who is reportedly out to create his own real estate investment empire, has hit Northern Virginia. His target is Tysons Corner, considered by many investors to be the best local commercial real estate market and one of the best corporate locations on the East Coast. His 50 percent interest in a relatively small, by Tysons standards, 15-acre tract could well be a springboard for a larger move into the Tysons area where there are vacant properties, but the price tags would be assuredly out of reach of those with less financial backing than a Bass.
The Bass brothers' Fort Worth operations already have close ties to one of Washington's innovative but preservation-oriented architects, David Schwarz, and Robert has just laid out $3 million in cash for a historic residence in Georgetown. In addition, the brothers' parents, Perry and Nancy Lee Bass, were White House dinner guests this week. And Robert is a trustee for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Following in the steps of a family tradition which has called for putting a great deal of emphasis and importance on the partners they chose to do business with, Robert Bass has teamed up with two major Northern Virginia developers/builders -- the John G. Georgelas & Sons McLean-based development company and the Milton Co. of Vienna.
The Georgelas operation is a family business headed by John G. Georgelas, its chairman of the board. One son, Ted, is now president and another, Tony, is director of the residential construction division.
Son Tom Georgelas has his own architectural firm in McLean and often does work for the family company. Tom Georgelas is often the spokesman for the family businesses and is doing well in his own operation, which is expanding into actual development.
Milton Schneiderman, a member of the Northern Virginia Builders Association's board of directors, heads the Milton Co., which does an estimated annual business of $50 million, primarily in residential sales. Georgelas & Sons and the Milton Co. operate primarily in Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland; but Georgelas is beginning to make a move into the District marketplace.
Though local developers praised Robert Bass's choice of partners, they wonder about the choice of the site since it is only 15 acres. But it is located along Spring Hill Road at the main exchange of the Dulles Road corridor.
One developer predicted the project will eventually be designed as a showplace to signal the beginning of massive Bass money into the region.
"If you are a businessman looking for investments along the East Coast today, you have to look at Washington. It is always a good market. And today, with the influx of massive research and development clientele, the Tysons Corner area is the hottest market around," said Tom Georgelas.
He declined to comment on any personal ties to the Bass brothers.
Georgelas said he had no idea which of the Bass brothers -- Robert, Sid, Ed or Lee -- might have bought the Georgetown home.
According to the quarterly report of Rufus S. Lusk & Son, Inc., a Washington real estate information services firm, two adjacent properties at 3238 and 3240 R St. in Georgetown were sold within three days of one another to nominees representing the Bass family, for just under $3 million. That breaks the all-time sales price for a residence in Georgetown.
Philip Horowitz, nominee in the sale of the historic Scott-Grant house at 3238 R St., which sold for $1.97 million, this week said he would "not confirm nor deny" whether the purchase was made on behalf of the Bass family. Efforts to reach Allan J. Weiner, the nominee for the purchase of the second parcel for $1 million at 3240 R St., were unsuccessful.
A spokesman for Randall H. Hagner & Co., the real estate firm that handled the sales of the two parcels, which were owned by Mr. and Mrs. R. O. Gordon, said the company "in this case, cannot make any comment on that," referring to who the buyers are or who the nominees may have represented.
Schwarz has designed several buildings for Bass operations in Texas. He is also the architect for the Tysons project. Considered an expert witness on behalf of preservation causes, Schwarz said he has seen the Georgetown house and called it "magnificient."
The main house reportedly offers views of the river from all three levels. The property at 3240 R St. includes a small dwelling that may have been used as a carriage house or a residence for staff. But one former Washingtonian who rented the house said he thought it was built as a guest house.
According to Lusk, the properties "have been transferred together" and therefore "may be deemed to constitute the largest sale ever for a D.C. residential property," thus eclipsing the previous record of $2.5 million.
The house at 3238 R was supposedly built in 1854 by Alfred Vernon Scott, who fled from Alabama during the Civil War and built the three-story brick house in Washington. According to Lusk, the home was occupied by Gen. Henry W. Halleck, commander-in-chief of the Union Army. President Lincoln was reportedly a frequent visitor.
It served as the summer White House for President Grant and was later known as "The Red House on R Street" when it was used by New Deal "brain trusters" in the 1930s.
The Bass's project near Tysons, which is now known as Springhill Park, has run into trouble. The project is facing Fairfax County's zoning regulations and intensive support for abiding by the county's comprehensive land use plan. Those regulations often surprise developers who come bounding into Fairfax from Texas, where zoning is often a far more relaxed process.
After getting a glowing, supportive report from the Fairfax County Planning staff, which hailed the project as something of a model for a future urban rather than suburban atmosphere for Tysons, the project encountered resistance. Residents of adjacent neighborhoods opposed it as a visual intrusion on their single-family homes, and it failed to win support from Dranesville Supervisor Nancy Falck. The staff report has not been acted on by the planning commission or the board of supervisors.
Schwarz redesigned the structure but did not lower the height as much as residents wanted. The partnership had applied to build a planned development commercial (PDC) office park, which gave the county, under its PDC rules, the right to extract road improvements and other proffers from the developer. Now, Bass, Georgelas and Schneiderman, operating as Tysons-Dulles Ltd. partnership, has decided to drop the PDC request and build an office complex "by right" under the existing industrial zoning which dominates the tract.
However, Tom Georgelas said the project design is still being reworked.
Another Tysons developer put it this way: "They don't have much to worry about with the site sitting there next to the main interchange of the toll road. It is a prime Tysons location. Now that Fairfax has approved construction of Tysons II: that site just gets more valuable every day. I wish it was mine."