The Road Less Traveled


The Cordish Company leads the pack in the push for urban revitalization across the United States

The Cordish Co. rarely does things the easy way. While some developers seek to make their money and move on as quickly as they can, The Cordish Co. happily dives into projects it knows will take years to finish. But the Baltimore-based developer isn’t slow or unproductive. Rather, by relying on a carefully calculated approach to retail development, Cordish finds success with projects other developers avoid. The Cordish Co. is in the urban renewal business.

"Projects average about a year and a half for research, design, negotiation and due diligence until final contracts are signed," explains Blake Cordish, vice president. "It’s important to remember that we’re forming partnerships, ones that will last a hundred years or more."

Blake Cordish is one of three members of the Cordish family who work at The Cordish Co. His brother Reed is vice president of development. Their father, David, founded the firm in 1968 and still serves as its chairman.

Coming of age

In the late 1960s, The Cordish Co. focused solely on suburban shopping center developments. And as David Cordish’s young career flourished, so did his notoriety. The public service sector tapped Cordish in 1972 and named him chairman of the Baltimore City Housing Authority. Seven years later, President Jimmy Carter appointed him director of the U.S. Government Office of Urban Development Action Grants, where he was introduced to the "intellectual challenge" of public-private development.

When Cordish left Washington in 1981, he took the knowledge he gained from working with city officials and government agencies and formed a second division of his company, one that focused on large-scale, urban projects. Soon, The Cordish Co. was developing projects in Niagara Falls, N.Y.; Salt Lake City; Detroit and Chicago. But it was a 1986 undertaking in Charleston, S.C., in partnership with The Taubman Co. that put The Cordish Co. firmly on the map. For Charleston Place, Cordish transformed a dilapidated property into a $70 million hotel and shopping center that included a 500-room Omni Hotel and the largest conference facility in the Carolinas. The project won Cordish accolades from the Urban Land Institute, which honored the firm with its Award of Excellence. ULI has honored Cordish four more times – a feat unmatched by any other developer.

A few years later, Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke enticed Cordish to revive the city’s Power Plant, which hadn’t generated any power since 1985. Instead of running full speed in the opposite direction, however, Cordish accepted the challenge. The company set about securing the right tenants and revamping rather than rebuilding the architecture. The building’s smokestacks were literally opened up and incorporated into the design. Today, Power Plant is home to a two-story Barnes & Noble, a 40,000-sq.-ft. ESPN Zone, a Gold’s Gym, and office space that includes The Cordish Co. headquarters.

The Cordish Co. currently employs 50 people at its Power Plant location and is responsible for more than 10 million sq. ft. of space divided among 50 different projects.

Accustomed to complexity

Although the company continues to do its fair share of suburban development (about 50% of its business, actually), its niche has become urban redevelopment, something some developers are unwilling to tackle, given the longevity and difficulties associated with such undertakings. The Cordish Co. also excels at projects that encompass public-private partnerships, where a locality pays some of the cost.

"Partnerships add a level of complexity," says Reed Cordish. "They require more time from beginning to completion because there is input from several groups." But by taking the time, Reed says, the company is able to "deliver a final project that is supported and is 100% in keeping with what the city wanted and needed in the first place."

The Cordish Co. isn’t willing to accept just any project, however. In fact, it doesn’t even approach prospective localities with ideas. It lets the public sector come to it.

About 90% of the projects the company is approached on "just don’t make sense," says Blake Cordish, who receives calls about prospective projects nearly every week. "They either don’t have the right visitor base, the right subsidy base or the underlying fabric just doesn’t make sense." Occasionally, though, a project will make sense. And when it does, Cordish pursues it.

Current Cordish projects are in Atlantic City and Landover, Md. "We’re really excited about the Atlantic City project," says Reed Cordish. "Atlantic City has 37 million visitors per year and a quarter of the U.S. population lives within two and a half hours of Atlantic City. Yet it doesn’t have a major retail or entertainment district."

Cordish’s plans, therefore, include building an 870,000-sq.-ft. complex at the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway between the city’s convention center and the boardwalk casino district. The $150 million project, slated to open in 2003, will feature factory retail outlets, entertainment and restaurants.

Just outside Washington, D.C., The Cordish Co. is embarking on a joint venture with Abe Pollin’s Washington Sports & Entertainment LP, Capital Centre. Other parties involved include investor Michael Jordan (yes, the basketball player) and Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry. The project will encompass a town center-style shopping district in place of the vacant 18,000-seat US Airways arena. Capital Centre will span five city blocks and include 450,000 sq. ft. of retail and 1 million sq. ft. of office space along the Washington Beltway.

Business as (un)usual

Unlike most developers, The Cordish Co. takes a reactive approach instead of a proactive one on most of its projects, believing the initial vision for a project must come from the public sector. "That way, the city knows it needs help or wants to improve," says Blake Cordish. "No one likes to be told what to do, especially by an outsider. But when people ask for help, they are more open to ideas and to finding solutions."

Those solutions always mean having the right tenant mix. The Cordish Co. doesn’t rely on a specific formula, but believes each project should be rooted in its city with local integrity. Nearly all of the company’s redevelopment projects incorporate national tenants that bring brand name and anchoring power to the property. The company then builds on that power by bringing in local architecture and local tenants that support the local market.

"We’re a large-scale national developer, but we take the approach of a local developer in each market," concludes Reed Cordish. "There’s no Cordish Co. model. Every project becomes a unique destination, something that hasn’t existed before for that area, something that makes a difference."

Current projects

What: Power Plant (expansion)
Where: Baltimore, Md.
Completion Date: Spring 2003
Details: Anchor Ernst and Young will be one tenant in the $32 million project’s additional 140,000 sq. ft. of office and 40,000 sq. ft. of retail and restaurant space. (Phase I of the Power Plant is 100% leased and totals approximately 250,000 sq. ft., including ESPN Zone, Hard Rock Cafe, Barnes & Noble, Gold’s Gym, Arthur Andersen and others.)

What: Power Plant Live!
Where: Baltimore, Md.
Completion Date: Partial opening May 2001; completely open fall 2001
Details: A $30 million entertainment complex, including 200,000 sq. ft. of office space, 175,000 sq. ft. of entertainment space and a 30,000-square-foot performance theater. Tenants include Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Maryland Art Place, The Improv Comedy Club, Mondo Bondo Italian Restaurant and Howl at the Moon, a piano bar.

What: Paradise Hard Rock Resort
Where: Hollywood, Fla.
Completion Date: 2003
Details: A $450 million partnership project with the Seminole Nation Indian tribe that will feature a 17-story Hard Rock Hotel and Hard Rock Casino, as well as 200,000 sq. ft. of convention space and 400,000 sq. ft. of retail and entertainment space, including a 5,000-seat live performance venue.

What: Bayou Place (Phase II)
Where: Houston, Texas
Completion Date: Early 2003
Details: A 220,000-sq.-ft. expansion, which will double the size of the current Bayou Place complex. Phase II will include tenants offering innovative and unique entertainment options specifically tailored to the Houston market as well as a 400-room, full-service hotel. (Phase I of Bayou Place is 100% leased and includes tenants such as Hard Rock Cafe and the Angelika Film Center.)

What: The Walk of Atlantic City
Where: Atlantic City, N.J.
Completion Date: Early 2002
Details: A $150 million urban retail and entertainment project featuring big-name factory retail outlets, entertainment and restaurants in an 870,000-sq.-ft. complex at the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway between the Atlantic City Convention Center and the boardwalk casino district. Construction commences this fall with a completion in winter 2002. Announced tenants include Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica.

What: Capital Centre
Where: Landover, Md.
Completion Date: 2003
Details: A joint venture between The Cordish Co., Abe Pollin’s Washington Sports & Entertainment LP and basketball great Michael Jordon. Capital Centre will encompass a town center-style shopping district in place of the vacant 18,000-seat US Airways arena. The project will span five city blocks and include 450,000 sq. ft. of retail and 1 million sq. ft. of office space.

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