Fifteen years ago, entrepreneur David von Storch saw a great opportunity in a run-down industrial building located at 1612 U Street NW. The tan brick building, which had had housed the E.B. Adams Company, a restaurant supply company built in 1921, was up for sale. But von Storch, who oversaw a small empire of brewpubs, salons and fitness centers, had already done his on-the-ground research. His method was simple: he walked the D.C. neighborhoods, talking to residents and noting changing demographics, new restaurants and signs of a nightlife scene. In the U Street corridor, he saw the beginnings of a migration of young professionals and thought the time was ripe for a gathering place that would combine a high-end health club, upscale restaurant, café, hair salon and spa. Says von Storch, who comes from a family of architects, “I don’t have the luxury of a research department turning out demographic data. But even then I could see that this neighborhood, located between Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle, had a lot of potential.”
So, in 1995, von Storch signed a lease-to-own agreement on the four-story, 41,000-square-foot building, drawing up plans for what would ultimately become the headquarters of his Urban Adventures of Washington business empire—as well as a gathering place for the neighborhood, including 10,000 square feet of community-owned businesses. And in 2004, he started working with Bank of America to finance the renovation of the building and remortgage the property.
Von Storch has a track record when it comes to recognizing emerging neighborhoods. In 1987, his first project was the Dakota Nightclub in the Adams Morgan section of Washington. And his three-restaurant Capital City Brewing Company operation started with a first brewpub located in a rejuvenating downtown and a second in the historic Postal Square Building in the Capitol Hill area. (A third is in Shirlington, Virginia.)
Construction on the U Street building started in August 2010 and will continue until the complex opens in August 2011 with his flagship fitness center—including a rooftop pool with a panoramic view, a salon and a restaurant. Since von Storch’s epiphany in 1995, the U Street corridor has become a draw, with a new Metro stop, new galleries, shops, cafes and clubs—and rising real estate prices. The neighborhood that was the birthplace of Duke Ellington has again become vibrant.
Matthew Agresti, senior vice president at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, has been von Storch’s business banker for six years and has seen the U Street project through the funding and construction phases. He says, “David sees us not just as his banker but also as a true partner in his enterprise. He appreciates that we have put together a team to work with him, to advocate for his business, and that we are available in a broader, more consultative role.”
Though he tools around town in a little Smart Car, von Storch thinks big. Other ventures already in the works include a new upscale establishment at 901 Ninth Street, two new VIDA fitness centers at City Vista and the Navy Yard, and a fourth Capital City Brewing Company. He’s even got a reality show in the works.
Von Storch is upbeat about the fact that his various businesses are helping spur the economy at the most local level. He says, “We’ve found that the other retailers on the street are pleased that we are bringing people to the area to work out—and then go out. Overall, we employ about 1,500 people, and we expect to employ another 100 to 200 at our U Street location. We think we’re doing our part to create a truly great urban neighborhood.”