Herb & Ben Miller

Originally posted in The Georgetowner on November 2008
Written by Timothy Herimann

As we continue to examine the impact the nation’s financial meltdown is having on different parts of the Washington, DC economy, Sonya Bernhardt and I had a very interesting lunch with Herb and Ben Miller of Western Development Corporation. The father and son combination are truly at the forefront of the District’s commercial real estate market. However, to think of Herb and Ben as Commercial developers is a terrible understatement. They are in fact urban planners whose vision is stamped on the area with developments like Georgetown Park, Gallery Place, Washington Harbor and Market Square. Today Ben runs the day to day operations while Herb seeks new opportunities throughout the region.

From the mid 1980’s until 1995 Herb Miller was CEO of the Mills Corporation. In that position he developed the Mills concept of value oriented super regional malls in Washington, Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, and Chicago. Herb retired from the Mills Corporation in 1995 focusing his energies on the revitalization of Washington, DC.

At present, even in a difficult business environment, Herb is very excited about the opportunities in Georgetown and the Penn Quarter area. He has just repurchased the Georgetown Park mall where he promises, “a blending of retail and art in what will be a very interactive shopping experience.” While the refurbishing will take 3 years, the senior Miller promises “cutting edge retail being anchored by Bloomingdales Soho.”  Miller tells us, “negotiations are under way for another anchor making Georgetown Park a destination shopping location.”

Both Ben and Herb are concerned about the way the District’s highway system seems to isolate certain parts of the city. This is most notable as Herb points out in “parts of Foggy Bottom and the Southwest waterfront.”  Linking a project to the surrounding community is critical in Herb’s view and he points to Gallery Place as a symbol “of what good development can be, in which the history and soul of an urban area are preserved.”  As Herb sees it this will be the “challenge in the future development of the Nationals Ball Park and the Southwest Waterfront.”

Ben readily admits that the current business environment is very difficult, but he sees strong growth in the future generated by “the excitement of the Obama Presidency. This will help lead to a further economic revival in Washington.”  Herb goes a step further talking about a huge influx of “tourism fueled by a rock star President who is almost universally admired.”

Herb believes the Obama Presidency can lead “a regional boom.” He points out that “Washington, DC; Virginia; Maryland and Delaware are poised for growth, especially if all the federal grant money directed to the region can translate into commercialization.”

So while current conditions are difficult, Herb and Ben Miller are very optimistic about the future and are very busy looking for new opportunities.