Developer Foulger gains credibility with community
Dan Gross/The Gazette
Bryant Foulger, shown here in his Rockville office, has been one of the main forces behind Silver Spring's downtown redevelopment efforts.
With his hands in nearly $500 million worth of projects that hold Silver Spring's balance in the future, Bryant Foulger seems remarkably calm.
Foulger, a vice president at Foulger-Pratt Cos., has been the company's point man for its projects in Silver Spring as the firm has edged its way into being a major player in this area's housing, retail and commercial development sectors.
Foulger-Pratt is partnering with the Peterson Cos. on the $400 million Downtown Silver Spring redevelopment project that has already brought the Fresh Fields Whole Foods Market, Baja Fresh and other stores. The company is also working with Mid-City Urban on the estimated $160 million Silver Spring Transit Center.
This month, the company is ready to move forward on a 223-unit apartment building that is the last part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration project that began more than a decade ago.
"Bryant and his group deserve a lot of credit for taking the bull by the horns and moving forward when others either couldn't or wouldn't," said Rob Blaker, a commercial real estate agent.
"Five years ago, you couldn't give away real estate [in Silver Spring]," Blaker said. "As a direct result of the redevelopment, tenants take Silver Spring seriously."
So how much time is Bryant Foulger spending on Silver Spring these days?
"Nearly all of it," he said recently. But with six children between the ages of 10 and 22, Foulger, 47, of Potomac still gets home by 6 p.m.
It seems as one Foulger-Pratt project eases into cruise-control, another is just getting started, making for a day-in, day-out land negotiations with county agencies, loan officers and partner developers, Foulger said.
"We are up to our eyeballs in Downtown Silver Spring," he said. While the retail portions of the Downtown Silver Spring projects are all under way -- ground is being cleared for the 20-screen movie theater and accompanying stores, and the American Film Institute Silver Theatre retrofit is nearly complete -- the construction still needs to be completed, and then the space needs to be leased.
"It's a different stage [of the project]," he said. "It's certainly a nicer stage. It's certainly funner."
But at the same time, Foulger's transit center conversations focus on architecture and design of the station. That project brings in a dizzying array of officials from Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro), the county, state and federal government as well as private developers and lenders. In the end, the Metro station will be almost a county version of Union Station, housing the subway, MARC rail, local and inter-city buses and taxis as well as stores, offices and apartments.
And dealing with government bureaucracy is never easy, said Bruce Lee, a developer based in Silver Spring.
"I think his input and follow-through is a major part of the success of his projects," Lee said. "Hats off to the guy. He's done a great job. ...
"He is one of the few developers that also participates at the local level," Lee said. "He gets involved. That's a big difference."
Gary Stith, the director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, agrees. Stith has been the coordinator for the county's side of the redevelopment, and said Foulger's and his team's effort has made much of redevelopment a reality.
"Bryant would probably be the last one to take all the credit, but he probably deserves the bulk of it," Stith said.
While there was community distrust of earlier projects, like the mid-1990s plan to place a megamall in Silver Spring's core, the neighbors around Silver Spring trust Foulger, Stith said. "People have a real high level of confidence in what he says."
Sally Sternbach, a Silver Spring resident who helped meld the community toward redevelopment, said Foulger's confidence was key.
"There was a tremendous number of people that needed to be won over. There was a lot of skepticism, really, on all sides" because of the earlier failed projects.
"I think he's done a great deal in a very quiet way -- because that's his style -- to establish credibility for the development community" as well, Sternbach said. "I don't know that it gets a whole lot better."
Accolades aside, Foulger said working in Silver Spring has been more of a focus on the nuts and bolts of the industry.
"We've just been working through all the issues. Some are just unique to Silver Spring, and some more were unique to real estate in general. ... We'd like to view ourselves as long-term owners of real estate, and sometimes it takes a long time to be a long-term owner."
Foulger-Pratt's ownership in Silver Spring is represented by the NOAA, bought and built long before the Downtown Silver Spring project was ever conceived. That helped seed the possibility for more interest, which spurred the interest and eventual relocation of Discovery Communications from Bethesda.
"We are increasing the demand just because of everything that's going on in Silver Spring," he said.
But while Foulger-Pratt is boosting Silver Spring's demand for market space as it moves forward with its myriad projects, there is still room for more growth, Foulger said.
Exactly where the growth would come, he wouldn't say, but "we're always looking."