Anthony Lanier distinctly recalls the reputation Washington once had among his international friends and business partners. “They saw the city as a backwater,” he says. “One characterized by mediocrity for never stepping forward.” But not anymore. “Everywhere you look, people are becoming more fashionable,” says Lanier, the Brazilian-born real estate developer who has acquired the nickname “King of Georgetown.” “There’s a renaissance [happening] in this city.”
In the eyes of Lanier, president of the real estate empire EastBanc Inc., the heart of it is in Georgetown, where he and his team have been credited with orchestrating the historic neighborhood’s face-lift and reestablishing it as the city’s premier shopping destination.
Over the past 15 years, Lanier has weathered brutal economic conditions while wooing a host of renowned retailers and high-end designers to Georgetown, including Brooks Brothers, Rag & Bone, Babette, Madewell, AllSaints Spitalfields, West Elm, and CB2. In total he now owns more than 50 percent of Georgetown’s Main Street retail properties, which occupy more than 400,000 square feet of commercial space. When asked about his business strategy, Lanier says it’s simple: “Buy, renovate, lease, and repeat.”
Raised in Vienna, Austria, Lanier never planned to settle in Washington after moving here in the 1980s. An aficionado of European cities, he lamented DC’s lack of a dynamic pedestrian center—a place where people could shop, eat, and congregate with friends. Lanier considered an overseas move, but instead asked himself: “What if, instead of missing this kind of place, I just create it?” It was an audacious goal, but Lanier is not easily dissuaded. “If people tell you that you will fail, you just have to go ahead and prove them wrong,” he says.
These days Lanier boasts that Europeans and New Yorkers are relocating to Georgetown—and they are not looking back. “There is no area in the city or world that is as unique as this because it’s an encapsulated, well-designed village within a city.” Lanier is best known for the redesign of a line of M Street storefronts between 34th and 35th Streets; its transformation into the upscale shopping row known as Cady’s Alley blends chic storefronts and cafés into the historic architecture. He also brought The Ritz- Carlton to Georgetown.
What’s next for Lanier? Not surprisingly, more of the same. “We’re not done,” he explains—there’s the far end of M Street, and, moving beyond Georgetown, he has plans to redevelop a site near Eastern Market, as well as a portion of the Anacostia riverfront. “More renovations; more buildings,” he says, adding wryly, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”