Builder buys Mazza Gallerie with a blueprint for change
Jul. 2, 1997

July 2, 1997

A Chicago builder who is developing a key Chevy Chase property on Wisconsin Avenue has purchased the problem-ridden Mazza Gallerie across the street with plans to change its image.

Daniel McCaffery, who has a national reputation for turning around difficult properties, paid about $30 million in cash for the imposing, white marble Mazza with its distinctive windowless facade at 5300 Wisconsin Ave. in the District's upscale Friendship Heights/Chevy Chase neighborhood.

Two weeks later, McCaffery broke ground across the street at 5333 Wisconsin Ave., where he is building Friendship Center. That project will feature three shops, a family-style, Italian restaurant and 29 townhouses.

Mazza and the new Friendship Center will connect to each other through an underground Metro walkway so people can pass between them without having to cross heavily trafficked Wisconsin Avenue.

That should create a synergy that enhances both properties, said Realtor Juan Cameron, vice president of the District-based Randall Hagner, who represents McCaffery nationally and handled the Mazza purchase.

"Right now you've got an empty tooth. Once you've filled that in, there will be benefits for both," Cameron said.

But McCaffery has other plans in store for Mazza. They include opening up its facade to make it inviting to the outside world, Cameron said.

"We're looking at a way to re-orient toward the street," Cameron said. "He wants to create a community atmosphere. That's what his mandate is."

McCaffery acknowledged that with Mazza his work is cut out for him. With its windowless, four-story white stone facade that evokes the monuments of ancient Egypt and Greece, Mazza puts off people who don't know what it is, what's in it or how to enter it.

"We intend to try to address the fact that the place seems out of character for retail space. It seems impenetrable, difficult and strained," McCaffery said in a telephone interview from his Chicago office. "I would like to make it more friendly. It's typical of what I like to do."

McCaffery already has a track record in the Washington area. Several years ago, he took on the old Cerberus Theater on M Street in Georgetown. In a $15 million deal, McCaffery renovated the property and brought in a Barnes & Noble Superstore and Eddie Bauer. Today the property bustles with activity.

Built in 1978, Mazza is grand and airy inside, with a huge central atrium lit by skylights.

Numerous stores have come and gone, including Raleigh's, the Bombay Company and Brentano's. The retail mix is odd: The anchor tenant is high-end Neiman-Marcus, while the other big store is low-end Filene's Basement. Other tenants include Ann Taylor, Williams-Sonoma and Harriet Kassman, but there is a constant flow of temporary tenants, like Maggie's Floral Designs and Susie's Hallmark, which both recently went out. There are currently six empty stores in Mazza.

"It's a toughie. It's never leased well. We have to study it long enough to see what it is that has made it fail so often. What can we do to plug that hole?" said McCaffery, who grew up in Canada and speaks with a slight Irish accent.

McCaffery said he will move slowly in changing Mazza. He doesn't want to upset his tenants. "They run the show. You have to make peace with them. I don't want to spook people."

Reprinted from Friday's Montgomery Gazette