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Multifamily Executive: Charm City Giants -- Q&A With Bozzuto Development President Toby Bozzuto

December 15, 2011

In the space of only eight days, the Greenbelt, Md.-based Bozzuto Group announced nearly $200 million in new development across two marquee projects in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., metros. The first, Cathedral Commons, a mixed-use development to be anchored by a state-of-the-art Giants grocery store across the street from the National Cathedral is set to begin construction in early 2012. In addition to the 50,000-square-foot grocer, the development will feature 137 apartments and eight townhomes with amenities including a hotel-style lobby, lounge areas and library, fitness center, clubroom, conference room, and residential courtyards.

In nearby Baltimore, Bozzuto broke ground this week on Union Wharf, a $72 million mixed-use waterfront community that will bring 281 upscale apartments, 4,500 square feet of retail, and nearly 500 parking spaces to Baltimore’s historic Fells Point neighborhood. Partnering with Bozzuto on Union Wharf is Chicago-based real estate investment firm Pritzker Realty Group and PNC Bank, which provided construction lending for the planned LEED Gold community.

Bozzuto Development president Toby Bozzuto checked in with Multifamily Executive senior editor Chris Wood this week to talk about the new developments and how his firm is playing a prominent role in Mid-Atlantic multifamily construction and placemaking.

MFE: Baltimore is completely revitalizing: What’s it like playing a key part in that revitalization?
Bozzuto: I hope we have done a small part in working on Baltimore’s continuing resurgence. I live in Baltimore and take particular pride and joy being able to develop something with my father and our company in our hometown. As you know, our project, The Fitzgerald, is in Baltimore, and we built a project called Spinnaker Bay here, which is part of the Harbor East development. We are doing our small parts, and I’d like to think that this newest project at Union Wharf will top anything we’ve ever done. It’s a beautiful building, we are working with an incredible group of consultants, and we're hopeful we can really take this to another level in terms of resonating with renters.

MFE: What can you tell me about the green building efforts at the Wharf, and how that resonates with your partners and residents?
Bozzuto: We’ve made a decision as I know many of our competitors have that we should endeavor wherever possible to build LEED-certified buildings or some variant of green certification, and I’m less concerned about the marketability of that as I am concerned with truly building a building that is ethically responsible and environmentally responsible. We have to own these things for a long time, and part of that is providing healthy living spaces for people.

MFE: What’s it like to find an opportunity like this in Fells Point, a quintessential Baltimore neighborhood backlit by the Domino Sugar sign, but also on the Inner Harbor?
Bozzuto: Harbor East is just an extraordinary development. They opened a Four Seasons there; Legg Mason has its world headquarters there; Morgan Stanley has just opened an office there. The center of gravity has in many ways really shifted over towards Harbor East and Fells Point. What Fells Point has that very few places in the United States have is this incredible rich history of having been founded in the 1700s. The streets are cobblestone, it was a place where sailors would come in and dock and bring in goods as well as build ships. It’s a great opportunity to be able to add to that incredibly rich fabric that already exists. It’s humbling.

MFE: The market seems very different from D.C. How much variation is there between inner-city Baltimore and something inside the D.C. Beltway?
Bozzuto: We always try to use our management company to help us understand on the development side who the customer is, where they are going to be, where they want to be. We try to respond to those needs of the customer, and we find ourselves looking for places and projects that are special. Places where I would like to live.

MFE: Tell me about the connection with Giant Foods. That is an iconic Mid-Atlantic brand, and it looks like Cathedral Commons will be no less iconic.
Bozzuto: Giant has owned this site for more than 50 years, and they have a store there that was admittedly getting older. They have been working with the city and the community to plan out this project, a brand-new environment with restaurants and apartments and Starbucks and everything you can image. We competed against many other development firms, and thankfully we were chosen as the development partner. I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but I do think we were chosen because we are a family business, we are a local business, we are residents of the area, and they saw in us a partner versus someone who was simply buying air rights. We feel very fortunate, and we’d like to start working on it immediately.

MFE: It seems that financial partners, public officials, and residents are all more onboard with multifamily now than ever. Do you think apartment development has gained some good will with stakeholders across the spectrum?
Bozzuto: From the '50s and '60s into the '70s and '80s, apartment housing was really seen as housing for the less fortunate. This type of housing is for renters by choice, and while some of these submarkets have improving employment, they could still use jobs, and everyone is looking forward to the economy improving. We are in an environment where there are young professionals who want to rent. Many of these properties look like resorts and mimic very high-end hotels. Those renters are also interested in spending money in the neighborhood. So when there is not a lot going on economically, we are all grateful to go to a groundbreaking. We’re creating hundreds of jobs every time someone breaks ground on an apartment project.