- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Thomas J. D'Alesandro IV prob-ably could have been mayor of Bal-timore if he had wanted the job.Instead, he came to the D.C. sub-urbs to build his own towns.

Mr. D'Alesandro, whose fatherand grandfather both served asmayors of Baltimore, rejected thefamily business of politics to be-come a real estate developer. Today,he runs the regional operation forTerrabrook, a national develop-ment firm.

Last week, Terrabrook hired thePorten Cos. of Rockville to beginbuilding the first houses in Clarks-burg Town Center, which will mixhomes, shops, restaurants and of-fices on 268 acres in upper Mont-gomery County.

Mr. D'Alesandro perfected theformula for mixed-use projectswhen he guided Terrabrook's de-velopment of Reston Town Center,which set the standard for the retromain street-style projects poppingup throughout the region.

Reston made Mr. D'Alesandro,who turned 47 on April 4, one of themost respected developers in theD.C. area. The town center haslured big-ticket tenants like Ac-centure LLP from the District, andit has been praised by smart-growth supporters who like its en-vironment-friendly design.

The mild-mannered Mr. D'Ale-sandro takes the praise in stride.

"We do a lot of research aboutwhat people say they want in theircommunity. We work hard try toreflect their hopes in our planning,"he says.

Charm City childhood

Mr. D'Alesandro's childhood inBaltimore shaped his ideas aboutwhat makes a community "func-tional."

In the 1950s, he watched hisgrandfather plan new developmentin the city, including Charles Cen-ter, a complex of high-rise apart-ments and offices in the heart ofBaltimore.

Later, when his father becamemayor in the late 1960s, Mr.D'Alesandro watched him work torevitalize Baltimore's waterfrontarea.

Mr. D'Alesandro wasn't inter-ested in the family business, de-spite being born into a Democraticdynasty that includes his fatherand grandfather, and his aunt, Rep.Nancy Pelosi of California.

"My grandfather loved politics.My father viewed public service asan honor, a duty. I didn't have thesame passion for it," he says.

Mr. D'Alesandro's father says henever really wanted his son to fol-low in his footsteps. "I never en-couraged Tommy to go into politics.I didn't discourage him, either. Iwanted all my kids to pursue theirown vocation," he says.

Mr. D'Alesandro studied philos-ophy in college. In 1980, while pur-suing a graduate degree in busi-ness, he took a summer internshipat Mobil Land Development Corp.,a division of oil giant Mobil Corp.that built planned communitiesacross the country.

His internship gave him achance to work on plans for one ofthe company's signature projects,Reston, about 18 miles west of theDistrict in western Fairfax County.Mr. D'Alesandro says the idea ofbuilding a city from scratch excitedhim.

"It struck me as a very comfort-able place. I understood the vision,"he says.

Eventually, he took a full-timejob with Mobil. After the first phaseof Reston Town Center opened in1990, Mr. D'Alesandro went towork on other projects across thecountry, including a long stint inAtlanta.

In 1996, Mobil sold its land-development business to anotherfirm, which Terrabrook acquired in1997.

Terrabrook asked Mr. D'Alesan-dro to stay on board. The companyshipped him back to Reston, whichwas beginning to boom, thanks tothe region's economic revival.

Within months of his return, An-derson Consulting signed on as thelead tenant in One FreedomSquare, the first office tower inReston. The company, now knownas Accenture LLP, moved to thetown center from the District,where its local operation had beenbased for years.

"It was a turning point for towncenter," Mr. D'Alesandro says.

"Before town center, Tysons Cor-ner was the destination of choice inNorthern Virginia. After Anderson,Reston emerged as equal to or bet-ter than Tysons. That's a majorchange."

Projects praised

Running Terrabrook's easternoperation keeps Mr. D'Alesandrobusy. In addition to developing theReston and Clarksburg town cen-ters, he is also building Broadlands,a big mixed-use community inLoudoun County.

The elder Mr. D'Alesandro sayshis son is never frazzled, in spite ofhis busy schedule. "What you seewith Tommy is what you get. He isa very smart guy. He always seesthe big picture," the father says.

Sitting with a reporter in his Res-ton office a rustic, cabin-stylebuilding overlooking a lake Mr.D'Alesandro is soft-spoken andthoughtful, raising his voice onlywhen the subject turns back to thetown center concept he helped pio-neer.

His eyes widen as he recalls hiswork to secure "the right mix" oftenants for Reston Town Center.

Terrabrook's goal was to createan upscale community, and Mr.D'Alesandro set out early to bringin restaurants like Clyde's and of-fice tenants like D.C. law firm Wil-son, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati,which plans to lease space in TwoFreedom Square, a second officetower under construction.

"My job is to interpret the masterplan. The challenge becomes howdo you take the rough guidelineslaid out in the 1960s and find theright ingredients?" he says.

Mr. D'Alesandro seems to havehit the right recipe: When Washing-tonian magazine published its an-nual list of the best places to live inthe D.C. area last year, Reston wasthe only community outside theBeltway included. The list also fea-tured Bethesda, Capitol Hill andAlexandria.

Environmentalists like what thetown center represents.

"I think we see in Reston TownCenter the future of how the sub-urbs should look," says StewartSchwartz, executive director of theCoalition for Smarter Growth, anumbrella organization for local en-vironmental groups.

The town center has given Fair-fax County a much-needed down-town area, he says. The only thingmissing is a transit line, althoughlocal business leaders are lobbyingfor a Metrorail extension throughReston.

Clarksburg's comeback

Terrabrook's project in Clarks-burg presents Mr. D'Alesandrowith a different challenge.

Clarksburg was founded in the1700s. It was one of the largesttowns in Montgomery County, butthe construction of a railroad andInterstate 270 helped drive resi-dents away. It has been largely iso-lated since the 1950s.

The plan for the project calls for1,300 houses, apartments andtownhouses, and 250,000 squarefeet of commercial space. Park-land, a softball diamond, a soccerfield and a fishing pond are alsoslated.

Terrabrook will also preservethe land where the county has pro-posed building a light rail line toconnect Clarksburg to neighboringcommunities with mass transit.

Montgomery County ExecutiveDouglas M. Duncan, a Democrat,says "careful planning" by Terra-brook will be the project's hall-mark.

"[It] will meet the growing resi-dential, retail and office needs ofthe area, while preserving much ofthe rural landscape and small-towncharm that has become synony-mous with Clarksburg," he says.

Hiring the Porten Cos. last weekto begin building the first 23 single-family detached houses in the towncenter is key, Mr. D'Alesandro says,because it means construction canbegin this year.

Looking ahead

Although he is credited withhelping popularize the town cen-ter-style development in the D.C.area, Mr. D'Alesandro and his fam-ily live in a more traditional subur-ban neighborhood in Herndon.

But he doesn't rule out moving atsome point to one of his projects or one of the many town centerspopping up in the region.

For example, he says he is im-pressed by the revitalization ofdowntown Silver Spring and theMazza Gallery development inNorthwest D.C. He also likes theplanned Potomac Yard housing-and-business project in Arlingtonand Alexandria.

What he doesn't like is when de-velopers "unfairly" compare theirprojects to Reston Town Center. Herecalls a recent meeting he at-tended where a builder described aproject as "another" Reston TownCenter.

"I thought to myself, 'No, it'snot,' " Mr. D'Alesandro says.

His diplomatic approach to hisimitators may show Mr. D'Alesan-dro has a flair for politics after all.It's a suggestion he doesn't deny.

"When you get involved in landdevelopment, you get involved inpolitics," he says.


Thomas J. D'Alesandro IV, vicepresident and eastern region man-ager, Terrabrook

Age: 47

Family: Married with four chil-dren

Hobbies: Reading philosophy,watching movies, hiking

Quote: "We do a lot of researchabout what people say they want intheir community. We work hard tryto reflect their hopes in our plan-ning."

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