by James A. Bacon
Northern Virginia technologist and developer Minh Le is partnering with Microsoft Inc. to build Gramercy District, a $500 million “smart city” development adjacent to the planned Ashburn Metro station on the Silver Line, reports the Washington Business Journal. Not only will Microsoft contribute technology it will participate as an investor. (Details on Microsoft’s exact involvement are sketchy.)
“We believe that technology is going to be a major force and driver in the way people live, the way people learn, the way people socialize,” says Le, a former managing director with Accenture who has delved into predictive data analytics, big data management and software development. “What we’re looking to do is build the next great tech real estate company.”
The WBJ describes the vision:
Key to the project is the marriage of real estate and technology, Le said. Gramercy District will be a “smart city,” baking technology into every aspect of the project, from the building systems to the parking to the retail to the Internet of Things — essentially device-to-device communication. The development will be ideal for tech companies and startups, he said, as the IT systems will be in place before the first building even comes online.
Gramercy District, to be built on 16 acres, ultimately will comprise 2.5 million square feet of development. The property fronts the Dulles Greenway and is adjacent to the Ashburn Metro station, which is scheduled to open in 2018/2019. Le’s company, 22 Capital Partners, is billing the project as the Loudoun County gateway, connecting all major employment centers by Metrorail, international businesses via Dulles Airport, and visitors and tourists to Loudoun’ s wineries,farms, and equestrian events.
The site is zoned for high-density, mixed-use, transit-oriented development. The project is expected to unfold over multiple phases. The first calls for a 268-unit, seven-story luxury apartment building, 26,000 square feet of retail, rooftop amenities and structured parking. A second phase calls for more mid-rise residential as well as retail and a high-tech business center.
Bacon’s bottom line: All I can say is, “About time!” The rest of the world is barreling ahead with smart city initiatives, leaving Virginia in the dust. That’s no surprise for Richmond, Norfolk, Roanoke and other downstate metros but quite a disappointment for tech-savvy Northern Virginia. If smart cities would take root anywhere in the state, one would expect it to be in NoVa. Sadly, while NoVa’s IT industry is tech savvy, its skill sets do not appear to have migrated to the real estate community.
But it always takes someone to be first, and from the brief description I have of him, Le seems to be the logical candidate. He has a strong IT background and he obviously sees an opportunity to embed technology into a real estate development in a way that no one else in Virginia, or even the Mid-Atlantic, has done before. What’s especially interesting about the Gramercy project is that it is driven entirely by the private sector. Most smart city initiatives in Europe are government backed, as is the smart city thrust in Dubai. The only global analogue I can think of is the high-tech Sangdo business district built from scratch on the outskirts of Seoul, Korea. If Le can create a replicable business model, Gramercy is potentially a very big deal. It could be the most transformative event in real estate since the invention of the skyscraper.
What “smart city” technologies would apply? The WBJ article mentions parking — presumably, this would be dynamically priced parking designed to limit and optimize the space dedicated to parking spaces. The article also mentions building systems — that would be primarily things like energy management (HVAC and lighting), water management, security and employee access. Also mentioned is the Internet of Things. That is an exceedingly broad and vague category, but it conceivably could include such things as measuring traffic loads on Gramercy District streets to coordinate with stop lights, parking and mass transit.
It is highly encouraging that Le will be applying the “smart city” technologies in a “smart growth” district of mid-rise, mixed-use buildings with Metro access. I will be especially keen to see if he develops a “mobility as a service” application like the projects being pioneered in California that, as a substitute for car ownership, would provide subscribers access to an array of transportation options from Metro rail, commuter buses, vans, Uber-like ride-hailing services, and automobile rentals. That, I believe, is the future of transportation and a far more likely savior of Northern Virginia from its traffic congestion headaches than anything the state has planned.
I may be reading too much into a single news article, but I feel safe in predicting that Gramercy will be the most significant real estate project in Virginia announced this year, if not this decade… if not so far in the 21st century.There are currently no comments highlighted.