Q&A: Deborah Ratner Salzberg and Development

Due to human error (I forgot to push the right button), the full text of Thomas Heath's Q&A with Deborah Ratner Salzberg wasn't published here yesterday. Here it is, with my apologies.

Deborah Ratner Salzberg, president of Forest City Washington, shared with Thomas Heath what her company is developing in the Washington area and what it hopes for, especially around the Nationals' stadium.

What type of development project attracts Forest City Washington's attention? We thrive on urban in-fill mixed-use projects that blend residential with retail and office. Historically that has been our strength as a company. As the mid-Atlantic hub of Forest City, we're working on projects from Baltimore to Richmond and these projects demonstrate the depth, breadth and strengths of our company.
In Baltimore this Friday, we are opening 855 North Wolfe Street, the first life sciences building at the New East Side, our East Baltimore project which combines office space, research laboratories, housing, retail and dynamic public spaces. The New East Side development will not only revitalize, but enliven the area north of the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus. Last month in Richmond, we began moving people into Lucky Strike, our fourth residential building in Tobacco Row - an exciting residential and office community along the James River where we have converted historic tobacco warehouses into apartments known as the River Lofts.
On the north side of the D.C. metro area, we're also working on an exciting mixed-use project: Konterra, located at the intersection of I95 and the new ICC in Prince George's County. Working with our partners, Gould Property Co., we'll be creating a new town center that will include 1.5 million square feet of fashion retail as well as restaurants, residences, office and hotels. It will become the northern gateway to the county.
Having lived in the D.C. area for more than 27 years, I am particularly excited about the three large-scale projects we also have under development in Southeast and Southwest D.C. With our partners, we are developing close to 90 acres, including Waterfront Station -- where we are under construction on a new neighborhood hub for Southwest. Our first two office buildings there, which have already been leased by the District of Columbia, a new Safeway and other great stores will be opening in early 2010. The first two buildings have opened at Capper/Carrollsburg in Southeast, one of which is dedicated to senior housing and the other to workforce housing. New mixed-income townhouses will be underway this summer. Construction on our largest project, The Yards -- 42 acres situated between the new Nationals baseball stadium, the Navy Yard, M Street SE and the Anacostia River, is well underway.
In the midst of all the excitement last Sunday night, we had our own "hit out of the park" when our first residential building, The Pattern Shop Lofts, was shown on ESPN during the Nationals opening game.

Now that Nationals Park has opened, bring us up to date on the status of The Yards?We are under construction! We've been building roads, laying utilities, grading and building parking lots for baseball. Tomorrow, we begin construction on the Pattern Shop Lofts, 170 incredible loft units in the building that used to house the Navy Yard's carpentry shop. This summer, construction will begin on our first retail building and our world-class five-acre waterfront park. We're on our way to creating D.C.'s newest waterfront neighborhood. We'll have over 5 million square feet of development including 2800 residential units, 1.8 million square feet of office and 300,000 square feet of retail. This will be a true live, work, play neighborhood and it's a LEED development. It is very fulfilling personally to recognize that we are finally able, in my own backyard, to apply all the tools we've learned building projects like University Park at MIT, Metrotech in Brooklyn, The New York Times headquarters in Manhattan, Stapleton in Denver, and Central Station in Chicago. Our years of experience in developing new neighborhoods will be instrumental in bringing The Yards to fruition. It will be our company's best project yet - right here in our nation's capital. I've been taught since I was a little girl that our business is "location, location, location." D.C. is a great city, and we couldn't be in a better urban location.

The Nationals held their home opener last week, but the area around the ballpark is a construction site. There are lots of cranes, buildings under construction, makeshift sidewalks, and not a lot of inviting retail and restaurants. It took the Gallery Place area around the Verizon Centre almost a decade to become a really vibrant commercial center. How long will it take Nationals Park/The Yards?
Currently the area surrounding The Yards has more than 23,000 people working during the day, and that doesn't count the 40,000 plus who will attend sell-out Nationals games. We have an already-established retail base. Now we just need to provide the stores. By fall of 2009, we will be opening our first 170 unit residential building. It is an adaptive re-use of an historic carpentry shop. We'll also be opening The Boilermaker Shops, which is another adaptive re-use that will have 45,500 square feet of retail including restaurants, a bookstore and possibly a climbing wall. Simultaneously, our five-acre park will open to the public. We are committed to creating an a great urban environment that people will be able to see and experience. There isn't any other riverfront park in the District like ours. I've just mentioned what is happening on our site by fall of 2009. All one has to do is head down to the ballpark and count the cranes to realize the baseball district will be THE new D.C. neighborhood by Fall 2009- and the best is yet to come.
One could say that it takes a village to make a village; the federal government's cooperation at The Yards and the District government's investment in the ballpark and Yards' infrastructure, laid the foundation for Forest City and others to create a thriving community. I'm excited the ballpark is bringing people in to explore this part of the city - and very soon there'll be good reason for them to stay - to live, work and play - in near Southeast.

Even with the expansion of The Navy Yard Metro Station, it doesn't seem like there are enough roads, parking, Metro stations and other needs to accommodate a full-blown development in the area around the ballpark. Will the city need more Metro stations and buses and parking to get everyone to and from the area, even when there is no baseball being played?
Tom, I can tell from your question that you didn't go to the opening game for the Nationals. Traffic flowed and the Metro worked well. The Circulator is picking up routes in Southeast and additional bus routes will be added as needed. It is actually faster for me to get to The Yards from Bethesda in the morning that it is to get to my office downtown.

Will we see water transpiration in the area, like the water taxi service that links parts of the boroughs in New York City? The Yards park will have a series of beautiful piers, and we plan on having water taxi service. Plans for The Yards marina include two long public piers, a large ferry barge, and a barge for a smaller water taxi operation, which will serve nearby destinations. There will also be a private recreational marina. Water transit at The Yards, and the boardwalk in the waterfront park, will really help Washingtonians reconnect with the Anacostia River.

Do you own Nationals tickets? Does Forest City have a box?
Absolutely, we have a great suite overlooking The Yards and all the cranes in Southeast. After Sunday's phenomenal opening, we picked up 4 seats in the lower bowl as well. I'm hooked and am a Nationals fan -- just don't tell my father, who is a lifelong Indians fan!

What is your ringtone?Honestly, I don't know my ringtone. I have a new phone, and my son chose the ringtone. I have to keep the phone on vibrate, because when it rings I don't realize it's my phone ringing, and it's rather embarrassing. I do know that when I call my son, "Fat Bottomed Girls" plays. I try not to take offense.

Been on any good vacations lately? I hear you like safaris.I love to travel anywhere and everywhere with my family. Africa is a favorite place. We've visited South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania and Rwanda. It's been very inspiring for me. Africa is fascinating, because one can see the most modern cities and the most awe-inspiring natural sites all on one trip. The urban redevelopment of waterfront in Cape Town has great lessons for the future of the Anacostia, and the gorillas in Rwanda are an incredible force of nature.
I just returned from meeting my children in Prague. The last time I was there was in 1991. It is a beautiful city that survived World War II with its architecture intact. Today it is a vibrant city that makes great use of pedestrian walkways over its river.

When do you turn your BlackBerry off?
My husband would tell you that I don't, and that I take it to bed with me - which isn't entirely true. It's just that I use it as my alarm clock.

What is your pet peeve?
My Blackberry. I have problems turning it off. My children think I'm addicted, and I think it may have caused me to develop something like adult-onset ADD. I also think that BlackBerrys have made talking on the phone a lost art. I'd love to wean myself from it, but I'm on it so much that everyone now assumes it's the best way to reach me.

What do you like to do with your free time?
I love to travel, and I love yoga. A group of female friends (and Josh Bernstein) get together every Saturday for a class at my home.

Last book read?
I am currently reading "The Much Too Promised Land." The book just came out and is a fascinating insight into the past 20 years of the Arab-Israeli peace process. It is a wonderful read.

By Terri Rupar  |  April 8, 2008; 5:41 PM ET  | Category:  Real Estate
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