Art Fuccillo, Visionary of Dulles Town Center & Much More
LoudounTribune.com, Tom Julia, August 12, 2016
Lerner’s point man has shaped the face of Northern Virginia for the past 30 years.
The first thing you notice is that he’s meticulous. It starts with his wardrobe and immaculately-styled hair, and becomes even more striking seeing the pride he takes in his work and his employer, Lerner Enterprises (Lerner).
Stepping off the escalator at Dulles Town Center on a Friday morning just after the mall opens for business, he stops mid-sentence as his eyes notice a toothpick on the floor. He leans downs, picks it up, says “this shouldn’t be here, someone could get hurt,” throws it in a trash bin, and continues the conversation.
Walking back from his interview with the Tribune, he picks up scraps of paper left on the floor near Starbucks. No interruption in his flow, just the natural act of a man at peace with himself and proud of what Lerner has accomplished in his 35 years there.
He is Arthur “Art” Fuccillo, Executive Vice President of Development and Construction, presiding over complex commercial and residential projects throughout Loudoun, the metropolitan region, and beyond, for a private company he says has paid more taxes to Loudoun County than anyone else over the past 25 years.
Fuccillo grew up in Patchogue, NY, a historic village on the south shore of Long Island about sixty miles east of Manhattan. His was a traditional Italian family, and Fuccillo was inspired to have a strongwork ethic. After graduating from Villanova University, Fuccillo went to law school at Catholic University, then continued to Georgetown University where he earned a master’s in tax law. He gravitated to real estate right away, first serving as general counsel for a Maryland developer. Then, as an eager young lawyer, he responded to a job posting and pitched himself to be Lerner’s general counsel. The company was in its infancy, Fuccillo’s commercial experience was a plus, and out of 100 applicants he got the job.
At 27, Fuccillo was on the move. Early on he wondered what it would be like to shepherd a shopping center project from dirt to grand opening. That sense of wonder, desire and passion would become his trademark.
Fuccillo credits his success to one man in particular, Ted Lerner, the company’s 90-year-old patriarch.
“Ted gave me my start, and has never said no to my passion to try new things,” Fuccillo said.
What follows are excerpts of the Tribune’s interview with Fuccillo about himself, Loudoun County, Lerner and his mentor.
How did you get started with Lerner?
At the time I applied for the job, Lerner’s offices were at Wheaton Plaza. I had dinner with Bill Scott, who was moving over to become director of leasing for Lerner. We hit it off, and he invited me to come by the next night to meet Ted Lerner, who was already a legend.
I was working in Tysons Corner at the time, and my office overlooked Tysons Corner Center. I would look down and wonder what it takes to build a regional shopping center. Now I would have the opportunity to meet Ted Lerner, who at the time had built four of them.
When we met, Ted was gracious and Bill encouraged him to hire me as general counsel because I knew the shopping center business and how to negotiate leases. Ted asked me how much would I wanted to earn. I said I don’t think I’m worth $100,000 but I’ll take $35,000, so he offered me the job and that’s what he paid me.
I was general counsel for most of the eighties. It was small group back then. Ted, myself, Mark Lerner, a director of leasing and a director of acquisitions.
We used outside counsel to work with local governments. Til Hazel was critical to us in northern Virginia, and handled both Tyson’s I and II.
What brought Lerner to Loudoun?
In 1985, we sold our interest in Wheaton Plaza and then in Tyson’s Corner. I was the liaison negotiating a large part of it with the Gudelsky family. We weren’t in Loudoun or Reston yet.
Around that time, I started talking with Jerry O’Connell, a close friend from college, about Loudoun County, and about the Intergate company. Intergate was buying and selling land, and working with Bill Bryant and his incredible maps.
By that time Lerner had built Washington Square, but no power centers, no strip centers, no hotels, no industrial buildings yet.
In 1986, we were talking with the Abramsons, a magnificent family and Ted’s partners in Landover and White Flint malls, about Loudoun County. Together with the Abramsons and Intergate, we purchased Beaumeade, then Dulles 28 Center and High Point, a third each. We also purchased Vintage Park and Sterling Business Park by ourselves.
|Art Fuccillo with a zoning map of Loudoun County that was prepared in August 1986 by Bill Bryant, whose maps were considered the definitive guide to all things Loudoun.|
Who’s dream was Dulles Town Center?
Ted was ahead of everyone. He had filed an application for a regional mall in the early eighties and it was denied. He took that denial to the state Supreme Court and it was upheld. So he filed again because he thought the intersection of Routes 28 and 7 was the next logical place for a regional mall.
I took over the zoning of the Dulles mall project. I had done contracts and leases all along, but not really zoning. But it was my dream to put a regional mall together, and Ted let me go for it.
Even before we went before the Planning Commission, I put binders together with sketches of what I thought the mall should look like, including potential department stores and other tenants, and projections of the money the County could make. I sent them to everyone on the Commission and the Board of Supervisors.
Some said what the heck is this, he’s letting everyone know what’s coming even before the zoning case even starts. That’s why I did it. I wanted everyone to know Lerner wanted to work with the County.
Southmark had purchased a couple of hundred acres to the south of where we wanted to put the mall. That worked for us because some County people wanted it pushed back from Route 7 to where it is today. We ended up with 550 acres total, and we became 50/50 partners with Southmark.
Things didn’t go so well at first, and I knew we needed to a better job working with community leaders. I met with all of them, including Dick Zeitz of Countryside, a great guy who became a supporter of the project.
It happened fast from there, and in about thirteen months the project was voted on. It was November 27, 1987, and on a vote of 6-2 we got the go ahead for the regional mall. I called Ted from my car and he was thrilled.
|Like a proud father, Fuccillo stands in the middle of Dulles Town Center and reflects on its success.|
What’s the back story on Vestals Gap Park?
A county historian, Carl McIntyre, didn’t want the mall at 28 and 7 because he said George Washington had traversed Vestals Gap Road on our property. I met with him, brought my own historian who said Washington never came near the road, and they argued history.
I finally had to separate them and ask how I could help. Mr. McIntyre asked for one thing, and we agreed. To this day there’s a Vestals Gap Park outside of Macy’s to honor George Washington, and Carl McIntyre too. It’s a green space with cobblestones and benches.
I always say I should be buried in Vestals Gap Park because Dulles Town Center has been my life for so long. Ted invented it, and I nurtured it.
How did you get the mall’s anchors?
The recession of the early nineties hit everyone hard, but the Lerner and Abramson entities were strong enough to survive. Ted’s a hard-working, cautious and frugal man and made sure we had the staying power.
In 1994, we were ready to put together the deals, and the key was to get a fashion anchor. I flew to St. Louis, MO, to meet with May Company, which owned Hecht’s and Lord & Taylor. Then I flew to Plano, TX, to meet with Penney’s, then to Chicago to meet with Sears. Lerner had done Tysons and Fair Oaks malls, and those stores were already present. Nordstrom was also in the area, but wasn’t interested yet.
You knew who your bell cow was. It was Hecht’s, now Macy’s. You knew who your powerhouse, stability anchors were. They were Penney’s and Sears, but you couldn’t build a mall around just them because malls are 70% fashion. We had to get Hecht’s.
I negotiated letters of intent with each of them, hired an architectural firm from Atlanta to create a mall design, and spent the next two years on a reciprocal easement agreement (REA) with all the department stores and their lawyers. We also partnered with Cigna beginning in 1996, and they’ve been a great partner ever since. In April 1998, we broke ground on the mall and had a soft opening a year later.
I invited all the county officials out to walk the job, and the only one who was able to make it was Scott York, who would become a dear friend and later Chairman of the Board. I remember Scott knocking on the door of the trailer and saying “I’m here for my tour”. He knew how much the mall meant for Loudoun County.
In 2001, at Ted’s suggestion, we went back to Nordstrom’s and they committed to participate. We amended the REA, and Nordstrom opened in 2004.
What’s your strategy for Dulles Town Center?
I think we’ve operated the Center successfully. In the past few years, we brought in Regal Theatre, which is also across the street in Countryside. We brought in L.A. Fitness, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cheesecake and P.F. Cheng’s, and we’re continuing to look at what else we can do around the ring road.
We’ve also built about 1,000 apartments and townhouses near the Center, renovated the food court to include a man cave area, and we’re well aware of the growing Asian/Indian and Hispanic populations who shop at the mall.
Ray Kroc, who founded McDonald’s, used to say “when you’re growing you’re green, and when you’re ripe you rot”. We’re never want to stop being green, and growing Dulles Towne Center. We listen to the public, we’re into social media, we do focus groups, and our managers are constantly visiting our stores.
What’s Lerner doing now?
Since Dulles Town Center, we’re done the Spectrum at Reston Town Center, Dulles 28 Center, North Pointe Village in Reston, Falls Road Village Center in Rockville, and Annapolis Harbor Center, the last two in Maryland.
Here in Loudoun, we’re working on a shopping center near Wegmans on Pacific Boulevard, in addition to the auto park we did there. It’s still in the planning stage and I’m talking to anchors, and it won’t be a regional shopping center. We think it’s important to complement what’s already here, not just add to it, so I’m trying to get stores that don’t yet have a presence in Loudoun.
The office market has been really slow, and we have a lot of it in Loudoun, so we’re thinking about making some changes instead of waiting until office comes back. The office market has been the toughest part of my experience. We’ve built one of the best Class A office buildings anywhere right here at 1 DTC, and we’re finishing up a first class office building in Tyson’s. But once you get away from Tyson’s and Reston Town Centre, here hasn’t been enough job growth for this type of product.
Data centers continue to be the hottest thing in the market even though they don’t bring a lot of jobs. To think that Beaumeade has become ground zero for the internet is mind boggling.
We’re also going to keep doing luxury residential here.
Is the regional mall still a good business model?
There’s a reason indoor malls were created and continue to succeed. People like going someplace that’s enclosed, that’s air conditioned in the summer and warm in the winter, and covered when it rains. Malls offer one-stop shopping and entertainment too. There’s this theory that more people will be wanting outdoor shopping centers, but I don’t buy it.
What about mall security in this age of catastrophic acts of violence?
We’re constantly looking at security at Dulles Town Center. Lerner helped fund the Sheriff’s Office presence here, and that helps too. There’s also a lot of security here you don’t see. I don’t see malls becoming like airports, but we better be in a position to react properly in case something happens.
Better security is the new world order; it’s the new normal.
What comes first to mind when we say Loudoun County?
Great place. A wonderful palette to have been able to work on over all these years.
I want it to keep growing and I wish there was more parking. I also wish there was another bridge connecting Loudoun to Maryland, something that’s been talked about for decades. The Cabin John Bridge is a bottleneck, and it’s a tragedy that public officials in Maryland and Virginia can’t get together on this.
Fantastic that Metro is coming to Loudoun, but it’s not necessarily the answer for commercial growth. It’s mainly a commuter service that will take people away from Loudoun, and I’ve always liked things that create jobs in the county. Based on experience, I’m not worried that Metro will hurt Lerner’s properties from a competitive standpoint.
A special company. A wonderful leader in Ted Lerner, a generous man. Loves his family, and after that real estate and baseball. I still get chills sitting at the foot of the master.
I’ve been married for 34 years, have two sons and two daughters, and love my family.
I’d like people to think I’m honest and straightforward. That I’m a hard worker, interesting, passionate and have a sense of humor. That I get up every day with the principles my father and mother taught me. Hard work is its own reward.
If you say I’m a visionary, it’s because Ted Lerner gave me opportunities. There are a lot of people who see things but don’t get a chance to execute. I get a chance to execute. How lucky am I.
LoudounTribune.com, Tom Julia, August 12, 2016