Herb Miller, Vradenburg to help guide St. E’s development

One developer, one philanthropist and one educator will lead D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray‘s advisory panel on the redevelopment of the 183-acre St. Elizabeths’ East Campus.

Herb Miller, chairman of Western Development Corp., will join former AOL executive George Vradenburg and Trinity Washington University’s Telaekah Brooks, dean of the school of professional studies, to head the advisory board pro bono.

“The ability to build great environments for people — mixed-income, mixed-use — that’s our goal,” said Miller, the developer responsible for Gallery Place, Georgetown Park and Washington Harbour.

Miller, who will chair the advisory panel’s real estate committee, called his role a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Vradenburg, president of the Vradenburg Foundation, will head the innovation committee and Brooks the education committee. The group will guide development of the east campus, Gray said, fashioning a common vision, a plan and an execution strategy.

The remaining members of the advisory board will be named in September.

Miller, Vradenburg and Brooks agreed to take no financial benefit from the site — a Gray administration prerequisite that may explain why no east of the river business leaders were chosen to lead the group.

The District is moving forward with the east campus development despite the stalled effort to build a new U.S. Department of Homeland Security headquarters on the west campus. The new U.S. Coast Guard headquarters there is expected to open in early 2013, bringing some 3,700 employees to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. It is a prime opportunity, officials said Wednesday, to establish D.C.’s campus as an innovation and security employment hub.

Being Herb Miller — Washington, DC Real Estate Pioneer Committed To Giving Back

The next time you’re having dinner at the Washington Harbor while taking in the serenity of the Potomac River, or enjoying a movie at Gallery Place, or perhaps shopping for that too-good-to-be-true deal at Potomac Mills, you need to send a thank-you note to Herb Miller, CEO of the Western Development Corporation.

Miller is the creator of the Washington Harbor, Mazza Gallerie, Georgetown Park Mall, Gallery Place, Potomac Mills and the Mills Corporation (Arundel Mills, Franklin Mills, Sawgrass Mills–you get my drift) that swept across the country.

When I recently visited Miller in his Georgetown home, the friendly, engaging, yet extremely modest developer and Washington real estate pioneer discussed his accomplishments, the keys to success, projects that he’s most passionate about, all while giving us a local history lesson.

“I like doing creative things, but I like doing things that are good for society that also have economic benefits for the community,” said Miller. “I’ve built about 25 million feet of projects.”

Miller’s visions began while studying urban planning at George Washington University. Miller was hungry, ambitious, and destined for success. “I was about twenty-one when I put on my suit and tie and walked into the office of one of the biggest developers, Jerry Wolman (real estate developer and former owner of the National Football League’s (NFL) Philadelphia Eagles). Remarkable man. He wasn’t there, but his brother was, who suggested that I become a mortgage banker or a broker to learn money or value. I became a full-time broker while attending school full time.”

Miller graduated from George Washington University equipped with a degree in Urban and Regional Development and his eye on the prize.

“After I graduated, I went to work for Shannon and Luchs. I headed up their development arm, which is where I put the Mazza Gallerie deal together. I must have been twenty-five when I called Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus, really nice man, and told him he should come to Washington and bring Neiman Marcus.” Miller’s vision for Mazza Gallerie was to be a major retail center with housing, but the housing wasn’t approved.

In 1967, Miller struck out on his own and founded the Western Development Corporation, a Washington, DC based real estate development and management organization, which focuses on mixed-use and retail projects.“I started my own deals as a referred developer for Safeway, building 26 strip centers–I built Safeways in Reston Town Center, Great Falls, Briggs Chaney, Montgomery Village–strip centers all over the area. In the late 70s, I got involved in Herman’s Sporting Goods. I became friendly with their attorney, and his father, who was a major financier behind O. Roy Chalk’s businesses–who owned Capital Transit, which became DC Transit. He was a financier. I bought Georgetown Park from him. He gave me a loan option to buy it. I partnered with Donohoe (Construction) and we built the first urban mall in America.”

Miller also watched a vision that he had as a student at GWU come true as well. “The CSX Corporation owned the Waterfront, so I ventured with them to build Washington Harbor. I actually studied that site in planning school as a student, and twenty-five years later, I owned it, so persistence is key.”

In the late eighties, Miller put together a venture and built Market Square, and then began building value-oriented super centers. “The number one reasons why people shop are for value, selection and entertainment,” said Miller. Miller owned the land that would become Potomac Mills, and convinced Waccamaw Pottery and IKEA to become anchor stores. He also convinced Nordstrom Rack to come on board, which became the first Nordstrom Rack on the east coast. The rest is history. Potomac Mills was born, which would lead to Franklin Mills in Philadelphia, Sawgrass Mills in Fort Lauderdale, and a host of other Mills value centers across the country.

Miller has always been able to recognize the needs and wants of his target audiences.

“You really have to know what the consumer wants, and that gives you a better chance to succeed.”

With so much work and negotiating involved, do you still find the work to be fun? “They’re not fun if you’re not making money,” said Miller. “Quite often, you don’t know if you’ll make money, you just have to do what’s right and what feels right. I can tell you this. The longer a project takes, the greater chance they have of not making money,” said Miller. “Any project, the longer it takes, the higher the risks.”

Miller retired from the Mills Corporation in 1995, and set his sights back on Washington, DC. “This city had gone through bankruptcy when I talked to Marion (Barry). Marion said, ‘you’ve got to get the heart beating before the rest of the body works.’ Miller led the Mayor’s Interactive Downtown Taskforce, committed to revitalizing downtown DC. “So Marion convinced Abe Polin to build the Verizon Center. We brought together citizens groups, the Undersecretary of Commerce, Disney, Time Warner–116 people joined. So many people joined we kept making subcommittees. I wanted to make Seventh Street into Main Street again.”

That project is what we now know as Gallery Place, which opened in 2004, comprising office space, retail/entertainment, dining and residential all under one roof. “The reason it worked is because everyone did their share.”

Miller is the epitome of success, but in these challenging economic times, what are the key to success? “You have to have the right parents to give you the foundation to be successful, the right commitment to never say no to failure, and you need to have something that people need,” said Miller. “You have to be determined about what you believe in. It’s 70% hard work, 20% expertise and 10% luck.”

As the country continues to argue about government involvement, I was curious to learn Mr. Miller’s thoughts. Does government have any responsibility due to these challenging times? “You can’t depend on the government to be the messiah,” said Miller, who is a staunch Democrat. “It’s about putting responsibility on your own back, but also doing what you can to touch a life and make the lives of others better.”

Aside from his children, who he declares are his greatest development, giving back is what Miller is most passionate about. The father of five tutored underprivileged children every Saturday for seven years. “There needs to be more sense of community,” said Miller. “People need to give their time. If everyone gave a couple hours a week, you wouldn’t have this social problem.”

So what’s next for this visionary and philanthropist who has had such an impact on not only the Nation’s Capital, but the country? Miller has once again reinvented himself and now focuses his time, energy and resources on the Chesapeake Crescent Initiative, a regional collaborative, which he founded along with George Vradenburg, comprised of public, private and academic sector partners to advance innovation in energy, life sciences and security in the Chesapeake Crescent region of Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia. “We have to innovate,” said Miller. “How do you convert this into jobs? There needs to be better sharing of innovation–government and private sector.” Herb Miller’s wheels are forever turning. One thing you can count on, whatever project he touches, it will be one-of-a-kind, and will forever impact lives.

Kenwood Towne Centre

Western acquired Kenwood Towne Centre in 1985 and immediately moved forward with the redevelopment of Phase I and the addition of Phase II of this open-air shopping center.

Western took an existing 450, 000 square feet suburban open-air shopping center and turned it into a 1.1 million square feet enclosed super-regional mall, which dominates its trade area.  The Center’s appealing mix boasts such retailer as Aldo, Williams-Sonoma, Aveda, Bailey, Banks & Biddle, Bebe, Build-A-Bear, Chico’s, L’Occitane, MAC Cosmetics, Pottery Barn, Sharper Image, J. Crew and Coach.

Today, Kenwood Towne Centre has 150 stores, anchored by Parisians, Lazarus and McAlpins.  Kenwood Towne Centre is McAlpin’s top grossing store in the country.  In addition, Kenwood Towne Centre is among the top 1% grossing shopping centers in the U.S.

Gurnee Mills

Gurnee Mills, which opened in 1991, draws on a trade area of over 10 million customers and has nearly 23 million visitors per year from 10 million cars per year. The exterior design of Gurnee Mills is inspired by the agricultural structures of the American heartland, while the interior is based on a “Main Street” theme. Grange Hall, the mall’s center court, was designed in the spirit of an old American variety store.

State-of-the-industry entertainment and video systems throughout the mall enhance the shopping experience, which create excitement and motivational opportunities. The entertainment court resembles a movie sound stage with a video-wall backdrop of 25 multi-image projection cubes. The Dine-O-Rama food court features three hot-rod vendors and high school themed tables inlaid with yearbook and sports photos from local schools.

Anchors/Majors: Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, Bed Bath & Beyond, Burlington Coat Factory, Circuit City, JCPenney Outlet Store, Marcus 20-Screen Cinema, Marshalls, OFF 5TH-Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet, Rainforest Café, Rink Side Sports Family Entertainment Center, The Sports Authority, T.J. Maxx, Value City and VF Factory Outlet.

Franklin Mills

Franklin Mills, which opened in 1991, draws on a trade area of over 3.6 million customers and has more visitors annually than Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.  Franklin Mills is anchored by five major stores and houses over 200 value-oriented retailers.  Strategically positioned in northeast Philadelphia, just west of Interstate 95, this vibrant super-regional specialty mall is the premier destination for value shopping in the heavily populated Delaware Valley region, with nearly 19 million visitors per year and 8.2 million cars per year.

Anchors/Majors: Bed Bath & Beyond, Boscov’s, Burlington Coat Factory, ESPN X Games Skatepark, Group USA, JC Penney Outlet Store, Jillian’s, Last Call! Neiman Marcus, Marshalls Megastore, Modell’s Sporting Goods, OFF 5TH Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet, Off Broadway, and Sam Ash Music

Potomac Mills

Potomac Mills was the prototype development of the Mills concept, which was created to combine the elements of a regional mall with value retail in a nontraditional, regionally appropriate environment. The enclosed mall features a “Main Street” format with individually designed storefronts, landscaped courtyard areas, and a food court.  Located directly off Interstate 95 in northern Virginia on a 110-acre site, Potomac Mills is thirty minutes from downtown Washington, D.C.

Phase I opened in September, 1985, and consists of approximately 650,000 square feet and parking for over 5,500 cars.

Phase II, completed in 1986, consists of an additional 550,000 square feet of retail area and a ten-plex movie theater. Phase III, completed in 1993, added another 400,000 square feet of value-retail space. Potomac Mills attracts over 23 million visitors annually, and is the largest tourist attraction in the Commonwealth of Virginia with more than 10 million vehicles per year.

Anchors/Majors: AMC 15 Theatre, Books-A-Million, Burlington Coat Factory, Daffy’s, G Street Fabrics, Group USA, JCPenney Outlet, Linens ‘N Things, Marshalls, Mikasa, Nordstrom Rack, Off 5TH-Saks Fifth Avenue, Spiegel Outlet, TJ Maxx, Vans Skatepark.

Sawgrass Mills

Sawgrass Mills, which opened in 1990, draws on a primary trade area of over 1 million customers. At 2 million square feet, it is the largest retail center in the southeastern United States, and with 23 million visitors annually, Sawgrass Mills is second only to Disney World among Florida’s numerous tourist attractions.  Sawgrass Mills annually has nearly 10 million cars visit.

Eye-catching graphics, elaborate architectural storefronts, and ornately decorated court areas create shopping excitement for the ten anchor stores and over 900,000 square feet of specialty value retailers. Sawgrass Mills is the centerpiece of a mixed-use project featuring 2,300 residential units, recreational parks, and a school, as well as office and hotel facilities.

Anchors/Majors:  OFF 5TH Avenue Outlet, Last Call!, The Clearance Center from Neiman Marcus, Disney’s Character Premiere, Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger Company, Store, Mikasa Factory Store, Banana Republic Factory Store, Calvin Klein Outlet Store, Gap Outlet, Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store.

Market Square

Market Square occupies the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, NW, directly opposite the Archives Building. The development is comprised of two mixed-use buildings flanking the Eighth Street pedestrian plaza and partially surrounding the Navy Memorial and fountains. Immediately north of the site is the busy F Street retail district, and to the east is the Seventh Street Arts Corridor.

The project consists of over 500,000 square feet of office space, 70,000 square feet of retail space, and 225 residential units. Close coordination with WMATA of structural design and construction techniques was required due to the immediate proximity of the Archives Metro station.

Market Square resolves the complex structural and mechanical requirements of housing, office, retail, and parking stacked above each other to achieve the PADC goal of housing on Pennsylvania Avenue. The twin monumental structures float on mat foundations above Tiber Creek, and were constructed with no differential movement immediately adjacent to the Metro Archives Station.

Georgetown Park

Georgetown Park is an award-winning two-phased retail, residential, and office project located on a 2.36-acre tract of land at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, N.W., in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. The project consists of two buildings that straddle the C&O Canal National Park and are connected by landscaped pedestrian walkways and trestle bridges, creating an integrated shopping and residential complex.

Phase I consists of a renovated nineteenth-century tobacco warehouse containing 34,000 square feet of office/retail space and 35 luxury condominiums, and new construction containing 596,000 square feet of retail, 98 residential condominiums, office space, and parking. Phase II consists of an additional square feet of retail and parking space. It is the City’s largest enclosed shopping complex.

Washington Harbour

Washington Harbour replaced a concrete plant on the Potomac waterfront with residential, office, retail, and dining, and in the process created one of the best urban experiences in the region. What appears to be a serene waterside plaza is only the external appearance of a complex set of hold-down piles, cofferdams, storm barriers, and floodgates required to create the riverside experience.

The award-winning mixed-use project comprises a total of 537,259 sf of trophy office/retail and 36 condominiums.  Four leading law firms occupy the 456,000 sf of offices and five leading restaurants anchor the 80,000 sf of retail.  The condominiums are among the City’s most expensive with recent sales exceeding $5 million.  Historically, occupancy has always exceeded 99%.

Washington Harbour is the only commercial development in the City on the Potomac River and as such is a critical piece of urban life in Washington D.C.