Anthony Lanier's Georgetown Part II: Village Life
Lanier believes that Georgetown is a village and for it to survive, neighbors should support the existing independent businesses and stop complaining about chains.
Anthony Lanier, the founder and president of EastBanc, Inc. real estate development and investment company, relies on historical context to inform his decisions in Georgetown. He also lives life like a "villager," setting high standards for the businesses that come into Georgetown and for how fellow citizens should sustain the village.
In a recent conversation with Lanier, the developer shared his views on controversial issues like high rents and empty space in Georgetown and spoke about his affinity and vision for Georgetown and the transformation of the D.C. real estate market during his time as a resident.
Lanier described Georgetown as a village: "what's fascinating about it is it is not only geographically segmented off like a village, it operates like a village."
The developer said he does a lot of his business with Georgetowners. "If there is a way to give preference on employment and engagement to somebody who is part of the village, you do it."
The architects and surveyors he hires live or work in Georgetown and are "Georgetown-centric."
"We kind of buy our signage from somebody I run across on the street, and say 'Oh George you still owe me a sign'."
Though the village concept does not always translate into Georgetowners frequenting their own commercial corridor, explained Lanier. "We have to still work on that," said Lanier about getting neighbors to shop on M St.
Lanier said he does his part by being cautious and picky about to whom he will lease space. The developer used a CVS as an example, saying he would prefer not to lease to a CVS, but that if he has to, he would not allow it to have a pharmacy because of the value he places in small businesses like Morgan's Care Pharmacy.
Morgan's "is the village icon and it is my civic responsibility to protect it. It is our civic responsibility to use their services. Everybody who goes to CVS and fills their prescription is an enemy of the village" explained Lanier.
Lanier said the village requires discipline on the part of its citizens; to keep the neighborhood "unique," neighbors need to "support the local retailers."
Lanier takes a long-term approach to his view of Georgetown's past, present and future. He likened the commercial real estate corridor south of M St. to the bustling harbor district of the past. "It was warehouses and so the idea that they are office buildings now is just a 21st century syndrome of yesterday's business," said Lanier.
The developer first came to the neighborhood in the early 1990s, at which time he said Georgetown had hit rock bottom. "The majority of retailers were bars and t-shirt shops, focused on cheap tourism...so the whole environment that was fostered for Georgetown was trashy. "
Lanier explained that he came in and began buying up properties and investing in the area before it was considered a place for investing. Now that he has these properties and Georgetown is thriving again, he said, people complain that there are too many national chains and not enough small businesses.
"But the fact is that there is no such thing as local retail. We as a city have been successful at killing all the local retail," argued Lanier, referring to the flight of the population to the suburbs. Though times are changing; in 2009, the District saw its single largest increase in residents since World War II.
On the other hand, Lanier said frankly, "If you run around in Georgetown everybody is griping about the middle of Wisconsin Ave. They're all local retailers," said Lanier, referring to many of the small offbeat clothing boutiques, suit shops or gold jewelry shops that are rarely frequented by Georgetowners.
In contrast, Lanier's Cady's Alley is occupied by national retail chains, but presents itself in a more quaint form that draws in locals to Cafe Leopold or L2. Cady's Alley is "all owned and run by local retailers" said Lanier, people who live nearby and consider Georgetown home.
In short, Lanier surmised, "people often don't understand what they are objecting to."
Lanier's big pet peeve with the neighborhood is M St.--what he called a "six-lane highway" running through Georgetown. "Who needs M St.? Nobody in Georgetown needs M St.," Lanier declared.
The developer would rather see the main street closed to through traffic to keep people from outside of the city using it as a thoroughfare to go downtown. "We should be like every other civilized city: convert into a pedestrian-oriented environment," said Lanier.
For Lanier, an urban enthusiast, a long-term view grounded in historical context is the best way to decide the future of the neighborhood he has played such a part in re-creating.
"We forget that the places that we really like and cities where we say,' well I wish it was like Vienna (Austria) and I wish it was like Paris (France)' where there are all these interesting stores. But these retail environments were created over hundreds of years and we are restarting something that we're in the 10th year, 12th year," said Lanier.
Lanier thinks it is important to realize that "Georgetown in its retail configuration is nothing else than in a process."
Missed the Part I? Read it here.