The art of leasing

Post Properties has chosen a truly artistic way to attract renters to its second community in Maryland. A 17-foot sculpture by a local artist will adorn a prominent corner of the urban infill site in Hyattsville that the multifamily REIT has spent the past four years entitling and readying for the development of the 396-unit Post Park.

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“Post is a firm believer that quality design sells and I think a strong piece of artwork out in front of the building will strengthen the iconic nature of the architecture and the site,” Martin Howle, who joined Post in 2004 as executive VP and regional investment director for the company’s Mid-Atlantic region, said early this year.

“It’s going to be an extraordinarily complex piece and the materials are contemporary looking, which complements our architecture,” he said of Pilgrim’s Quandary, the sculpture by local artist Alan Binstock that was chosen by a five-member jury in February to grace the pedestrian plaza at the eastern corner of the mid-rise community that will include 1,750 sq. ft. of ground-floor retail space.

“The plaza itself is fairly heavily landscaped, so I think it’s going to be a really nice juxtaposition and we expect it to be enduring, as well as durable,” said Howle of the 2,000-lb. sculpture he hopes will draw attention to the five-story community that broke ground in Q4 2007 and is expected to deliver first units this spring.

“We welcome anything that can draw traffic or positive publicity to the site, whether it’s our quality architecture and look, or distinctive art,” he said. “And I think working with the Hyattsville community and the city, and now a local artist, will give us some mileage in terms of being part of the community and hopefully getting customers through the community.”

Hyattsville is becoming known as an arts district and an up-and-coming city with a diverse population and Post wants to be part of that renaissance, said Howle, who believes anything that brings positive attention to the neighborhood is good for the community, as well as for Post’s investment.

And Binstock, who lives in the vicinity, agrees that his neighborhood is wildly eclectic. “I can get up on a Saturday morning and a neighbor on one side, who’s an opera singer, might be practicing scales and in the other direction down the street, a neighbor could be practicing bagpipes, right here on the D.C. border,” said the artist, whose day job for the past 17 years has been at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where he is master planner working with the engineers, scientists and project managers to design facilities they will need for future projects.

Binstock, who earned his master’s degree in architecture in 1985 at the University of Maryland, within walking distance of Post Park, decided to answer the December call for artists to enter the public art competition sponsored by Post and the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation in December, because of the 6.8-acre property’s prominent location right on East-West Highway, and the innovative design of the apartment community.

“It’s a very handsome project and I appreciate what Post did with the property in setting it back from the road and creating a bit of a public realm. There’s a turnaround and a planter and some pedestrian area, which is a nice buffer between it and the commercial plaza and all of the traffic,” said the artist, whose sculpture will feature a glass orb at the core of a 13-foot diameter shield form that is supported by curving cross-braced stainless steel rods and should be installed by the end of April.

The jury that chose Binstock’s piece included Howle and another person from his development team, a representative from project architect Niles Bolton Associates’ D.C. office, a local artist and Stuart Eisenberg, director of the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation (CDC), the organization that facilitated Post’s participation in the public art competition.

“This is one of a series of pieces in our public art initiative that we’ll be working on with private developers and public entities to populate Hyattsville with public art,” said Eisenberg, who was on the city council when the former owner of the site wanted to build a small office building there. The council members opposed that idea because they did not believe that project was transit-oriented enough for the prominent corner in Prince George’s Plaza Transit District.

“Our opposition stopped the project and the owner sold the property to Post, so I feel like I’ve had a little bit of a hand in seeing the site developed to a higher and better use and now, as community development director, to see public art infused there is very gratifying,” said Eisenberg.

He praised Post for enthusiastically going along with the CDC, when the city’s planning committee asked the company to beef up the corner of the building that is most visible from the adjacent highway and asked them to increase the height of the building to create a stronger signifier and place-making component at that corner.

“A lot of times, you’ll ask a developer to increase their architectural presence and they’ll squeak and cry, but Post didn’t blink. They said, ‘Great. We’d love to,'” Eisenberg recalled.

In addition to embracing the planning committee’s architectural request, Post also restored an offsite stream bed that runs adjacent to the property through a storm-water mitigation project that represents about $1 million of the $87.4 million cost to construct Post Park.

The site that is about a block from the Prince Georges Plaza Metro stop and a couple of stops from Catholic and Howard Universities, with the Mall at Prince Georges, filled with restaurants and shops, right across the street. University Town Center, which boasts some new restaurants and a movie theater, is a block up the street, making the long undeveloped site perfect for urban infill.

The downside, quite literally, was the erosion of the long, rectangular parcel by years of storm water rushing out of a large pipe at the top of the sloping site, creating a ravine that was washing away the middle of the property. To make it ready for development, Post rerouted the storm water and filled in the ravine that had been dumping silt, mud and trash into the Anacostia watershed and restored the stream adjacent to the community.

“We helped stabilize the environment and certainly improved the watershed and the stream bed next to us. At the end of the day, it ended up being a requirement, but we had to correct the situation to make the site build-able anyway and it was just the right and appropriate thing to do, not only to make the site use-able, but to improve the environment downstream,” said Howle.

“They’ve done great stuff there and we’re very thankful that they’ve been so forward-thinking and willing to work with the county. We’re pleased with their design work on their project and, overall, we’re really happy to have as fine a piece of art as Alan’s work going in and being matched with something as attractive as what Post is doing,” said Eisenberg, adding that Binstock has been active in helping set up the Gateway Arts District in Prince George’s County. That development district overlay zone, which encompasses areas in four municipalities, also serves as a tax incentive for artists to locate there, and as a zoning paradigm to enable more arts-related development, he said.

The Hyattsville CDC, which was founded in 2000, is one of a couple of agencies that work to facilitate development within the arts district, but the CDC’s mission is a bit broader, including facilitation of development throughout the city of Hyattsville, especially focused on the Transit District area, Eisenberg explained.

Howle expects the transit-oriented nature of Post Park, which a couple of miles from a MARC train station, will attract those who commute to jobs in D.C. or Baltimore. “We think it’s a good location for dual income households, where one might have business in the Hyattsville area or at the universities and the other one might take the metro or MARC somewhere every day.

“We think we’ll also have a strong draw from people related to the university, like graduate students, professors, visiting scholars or others doing business with the universities. The area is definitely diverse, so we expect to get a wide range of people,” he said.

He expects many of the new community’s residents to have ties to the Hyattsville vicinity, either through family or work, and have been looking for a quality place to live in the city, but choices have been limited in terms of highly-amenitized, quality communities until the advent of Post Park.

The community includes studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments with a variety of finishes. All of the units have granite counter tops and porcelain tile floors. Some select upgraded units will include hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances.

The community will include a few loft-style units and approximately 70 percent of the apartments will have a view of the woods, because the site is surrounded on two sides by Maryland parkland that never will be developed.

“The units on the front of the building will have a really good southern exposure and you can actually see Catholic University from the units on the upper floors. The units on the north side all face into landscaped courtyards and the park lands. Residents will enter the community from the busy East-West Highway and will be able to enjoy one of the many quiet, landscaped courtyards that are adjacent to the trees and woods,” Howle said, explaining that Post wanted to create a place that people are really proud to call home.

And the addition of a monumental piece of public art will serve to enhance that feeling in the community’s residents, repaying the developer many times over for the cost of the artwork, Binstock believes.

“I would say to developers that, given the millions of dollars invested in a project, spending a small amount on something like public art is an incredible investment and inducement to the idea of community, especially sculpture. I think paintings do it, too, but sculpture creates a place and, after all, architects and community builders are place-makers. If you create a place that has an individual quality, that encourages people to say, ‘I’ll meet you by Pilgrim’s Quandary,’ it becomes something that removes it from anonymity. It makes it an individual place and a big part of what developers want to do is say, ‘Hey, we’re different from the housing down the street.'”

“When you get a chance to do monumental art, it becomes a community resource. It’s a win for everybody,” the artist said.

Post Properties, which was founded in Atlanta in 1971, is one of the largest developers and operators of upscale multifamily communities in the United States. As of mid-January, the company’s diverse portfolio consisted of 21,190 apartments in 58 communities in 10 markets spread from Dallas to Florida and up the East Coast to Washington D.C., where the company is actively increasing its footprint. The REIT has 1,736 units in five apartment communities currently under construction and/ or in lease-up and is developing and selling 361 condos in three communities and converting two apartment communities consisting of a total of 349 units into condos through Post’s taxable REIT subsidiary.

The company’s other Maryland community is the 361-unit Post Fallsgrove in Rockville. Post’s D.C. area portfolio also includes the 289-unit, 15-story Post Massachusetts Avenue in the nation’s capital and five Virginia assets – the 205-unit Post Carlyle Square in Alexandria, the 336-unit Post Corners in Centreville, the 364-unit Post Forest in Fairfax, the 505-unit Post Pentagon Row in Arlington and the 499-unit Post Tysons Corner in McLean.