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Washington Post: Development Gods Smile on Catholic University

November 10, 2011

Catholic University, developer Jim Abdo and partners from Bozzuto and Pritzker Realty celebrated the groundbreaking of Catholic University’s Cardinal Hall Wednesday, a project that will deliver 720 residential units, 80,000 square feet of retail and 15,000 square feet of artists’ studio space.

In short, it is an attempt to create a college main street for a university that is next to the Brookland Metro station but which has nothing of the sort. As Catholic President John Garvey put it to me, when it comes to basic shopping and entertainment, “For far too long our students have had to jump on the Red Line and go somewhere else.”

This project could easily have fallen apart, but instead could go down as one of Abdo’s greatest hits.

A D.C. developer who remade 14th Street Northwest and brought high-end condominiums to H Street Northeast, Abdo took some scrapes during the recession (remember Arbor Place?) but hung with Catholic through the collapsing land values and financing markets of the recession, which destroyed similar deals at the University of Maryland-College Park and Howard University.

Once things returned to some semblance of normalcy, Abdo landed one of the first investments from a $75 million fund created by The Bozzuto Group and Pritzker Realty Group. We delivered the news of the fund’s formation in August of 2010; since then, Bozzuto and Pritzker have lined up 3,500 apartments in the Washington-Baltimore area. In the last two weeks alone they closed financing on Monroe Street Market, The Arcadian at Waugh Chapel (in Gambrills) and Union Wharf, a $72 million project in Baltimore.

Do the investors have any concern about an apartment bubble?

Actually, yes.

Toby S. Bozzuto, president of Bozzuto Development, said there is almost certainly overbuilding happening in certain submarkets and that many of the deals he has invested in were locked up more than a year ago.

“Prices have been getting so tight and returns are getting so low that there are some deals we’re just not willing to go that far out on the risk curve for,” he said.

He said Bozzuto’s units would stand out for their quality, design and management. “There is so much product coming into the market, so we need to distinguish ourselves,” he said.

A plan for the retail wouldn’t hurt either. What’s up with that Harris Teeter talk?