Case Studies

Donohoe Development Company

Finding Opportunities for a Family of Companies

The Donohoe Companies Inc. is the oldest and largest full-service real estate organization in the Washington, D.C. region, and the group of companies has been building both in terms of size and reputation for over 125 years. What began as a corner store founded on Washington’s Capitol Hill in 1884 has grown into five associated businesses that have developed and built billions of dollars of the District region’s premier office, hotel, retail, industrial and residential projects.

Donohoe Development Company (DDC) sits at the core of these efforts, coordinating the increasingly complex processes of problem solving, negotiation, team building, zoning, obtaining approvals, addressing community and neighborhood group concerns, and meeting the differing requirements of federal, state and local governments in a very diverse area spanning D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia.

As Jad Donohoe, a vice president of DDC, explains, “Our division focuses on really creating opportunities for the other divisions: not only new construction opportunities, but new property management, facilities management and hotel management opportunities as well.

“When my great, great grandfather started the company, he actually started out with a general store and people would come to him asking where they might rent a home or office because he was in the neighborhood,” continues Jad, a fifth generation member of the family-owned company’s management. “Eventually, he realized he was doing more real estate work than he was as a storekeeper, so he decided to make the change into real estate. Back in the late 19th century, Washington, D.C., was a small, sleepy kind of town, but over the past century it has just grown by leaps and bounds and we have been very fortunate to be able to grow with it. So, our roots are really very much in bringing buyers and sellers together.”

Growing a Family of Partnerships

Though the Donohoe Companies Inc. as a whole has grown to almost 1,200 employees whose combined efforts result in over $700 million in activity, DDC takes pride in still being an intimate, efficient 11-person division that strengthens a proud family tradition. Jad and his cousin Robert Jr., also a fifth-generation member of the family business and a vice president of DDC, play a role in every project that DDC develops.

“We have less than a dozen employees at DDC, but it is nice because my cousin is right down the hall and it’s great to be able to have lunch with all the members of your family,” laughs Jad. “I’ve been at the company officially for five years, but I have very vivid memories of many of the sites we have developed even 25 years ago. I grew up walking these development sites. We both did.”

Robert agrees that their history makes a difference, explaining, “We’ve built a history with lenders, investors, tenants and property owners – in many cases over decades. They know we excel with financing challenges, maximizing site value and focusing on what is best for all the partners in a deal.”

Developing Showcase Projects

Maintaining relationships has come in handy with DDC’s newest project, a Residence Inn by Marriott in the Ballston area of Arlington, Va. The high-rise project, scheduled to begin construction in October 2011, features 183 suites as well as ground floor retail. Having long-term relationships with lenders proved handy on this scope of project, says Robert.

“With today’s nervous financial markets, it helps to have already completed $300 million in loans with your lender,” he explains. “We purchased the site, are building it ourselves, and will also own and manage it, but it’s also part of far larger project led by local developer the Shooshan Company [which brought in Donohoe for the company’s hotel development expertise].”

Across the Potomac River, in Bethesda, Md., Donohoe will break ground in the beginning of 2012 on the first of four downtown Bethesda projects. The first, The Gallery of Bethesda, will feature 234 apartments as well as retail. Future projects planned in Bethesda include office, retail and apartments.

DDC is also active in the City of Washington, and is developing a pair of downtown hotels on Massachusetts Avenue. The project, called The Arts at 5th & I, includes a luxury boutique hotel, ground floor retail and a second hotel for extended-stay travelers. The green development, aiming to be rated LEED Silver by the U.S. Green Building Council, includes a vegetated roof and biking facilities, and is a public-private partnership with the City of Washington, which owns the underlying ground. The fun, edgy property expects to break ground in late 2012, and in the interim has already hosted outdoor markets and an Asian film series.

Having such a strong roster of showcase projects adds to DDC’s ability to remain an active strategic partner in its region, despite the recently depressed economic climate. “Our outlook is cautious but positive, even though it may be a long and slow recovery,” says Jad. “We’re also fortunate in D.C. to be cushioned by a lot of government and institutional work. The great thing about being a part of such a diverse parent company is that even in real recessionary times, the recession won’t hit all the divisions at the same time, so we have considerably more stability than companies who only develop real estate.”

The Donohoe Companies has been building with trust and integrity for more than a century, and with Donohoe Development Company actively procuring opportunities it will continue to strengthen its network of established clientele for generations more.

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