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Caves Valley Partners grows from Baltimore roots

In less than decade, Caves Valley Partners has become one of the biggest players on the local real estate scene, with ambitious plans to reshape Towson and now South Baltimore.

The principals of the Towson-based development firm, who have deep roots in the region, have drawn on those ties to build political and financial support for large-scale projects. Its latest proposal would plant a $250 million mix of offices, apartments and stores between Federal Hill and M&T Bank Stadium.

The partnership announced its plans for Stadium Square last week after it assembled much of the three-block property.

The project is akin in scale to the $300 million Towson Row development Caves Valley Partners announced last year, which aims to extend Towson's walkable core south of the Towson Town Center along York Road with stores, offices and residences. The developer is expected to unveil specific designs this summer.

"They have emerged as a very important force," said Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson and has received support from the firm. "They're almost master-planning the redevelopment of a community."

Stadium Square would build on the company's presence in South Baltimore, where its work includes the renovation of 1111 Light Street, the new Riverside Wharf offices on Key Highway and properties on East Cross Street. The firm is also a partner in the Horseshoe Casino, being built along Russell Street.

"They seem to have staked out a claim — and these are my words, not theirs — in that area," said Theo Rodgers, CEO of A&R Development Corp., who worked with Caves Valley principals before its founding and has worked subsequently with the company. "I expect them to do great things."

The partnership's leaders say they want their projects to lift the region's national profile. The partners, who themselves maintain low public profiles, declined to be interviewed for this article, but managing partner Arthur H. Adler submitted written responses to questions from The Baltimore Sun.

Adler wrote that the company's core focus is the Baltimore region, where it finances its plans with investments by a small group of local business and civic leaders, who provide "patient and educated capital" and trust the "experience and judgment" of the firm's leaders.

The company's strategy is to find properties that can be transformed for "higher and better use," and it hopes to create vibrant, lively destinations in both Baltimore and Towson, he said.

"We work to identify projects that we believe lie in the pathway of progress for communities and the citizens, businesses and institutions who make up those communities," Adler wrote. "We get a thrill upon seeing our cranes erected throughout the area and actually wish that Baltimore had more development in this regard. Besides the obvious goal of taking a risk in order to generate a fair return from a project, our equal goal is to help transform and grow the region that we all call home."

While the firm is focused on Baltimore, it's also working in Georgia and in North Carolina, where it is building a $400 million to $500 million mixed-use development on part of a 120-acre parcel in Chapel Hill. It's involved in at least 18 projects with hundreds of acres slated for a wide range of uses, including gas stations, single-family homes and dense, mixed-use urban redevelopment.

The company's deep pockets have allowed it to move aggressively, performing risky property acquisition, as it did over the last two years in Sharp-Leadenhall, where it has persuaded a number of businesses to sell their properties and relocate. It recently bid $910,000 to buy the Towson Armory, which it will add to the Towson Row project.

M.J. "Jay" Brodie, former head of the Baltimore Development Corp., said the firm has a reputation for high-quality development and called its assemblage of properties in Sharp-Leadenhall, a part of the city long passed over for investment, "an interesting and adventurous move."

"Baltimore's a conservative city. It takes people who are willing to push the envelope a little and take a little risk, and that's what you're seeing here," he said. "I'm sure other people saw that site and said, 'Too complicated, not a sure thing.' "

Although the firm dates to 2007, its principals are longtime power players.

Chairman Steven Fader is president of the Caves Valley Golf Club and CEO of MileOne Automotive group, a nearly $2 billion operation based in Towson with more than 60 dealerships and over 3,000 employees.

Adler worked for 18 years at David S. Brown Enterprises, his father-in-law's development firm, and trained as a real estate attorney at Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman, once one of Maryland's most prestigious law firms. A McDonogh School graduate, he heads his alma mater's board of trustees, which is studded with players tied to real estate, including Merritt Properties' Scott Dorsey and Northeast Foods CEO William Paterakis.

Steven J. Sibel, another alum of the law firm, led his own development company for 16 years, joining such big hitters as David Cordish on projects. He is the son of Hanan "Bean" Sibel, a former wholesale food broker.

Craig Colton, the fourth founder, previously worked for law firm DLA Piper and has been involved in Maryland real estate since 2001.

Anthony W. Deering, a former chairman and CEO of the Rouse Co., is a nonexecutive chairman and adviser. Deering also is a director at Under Armour.

Arsh Mirmiran, who often acts as the company's public face, joined Caves as a partner in 2013 after working with it on the renovation of 1111 Light Street. Mirmiran, who trained as an engineer and had his own development firm, serves on the board of the Towson University Foundation and runs a lively Twitter feed, occasionally taking friendly swipes at competitors. (After two celebrity chefs signed up to run a taqueria at Horseshoe Casino, he noted: "Awesome! MD Live has Cheesecake Factory. Point @HorseshoeBmore !!!")

"They're all Baltimoreans. They're committed to this community. They live here, they work here, they don't travel around the country. … They want to do well here," said Howard Klein, vice president of the McDonogh School board and general counsel for Klein's ShopRite of Maryland. "It's kind of what you need to make Maryland work."

The partners are generous donors, and many are political contributors in Baltimore County, where last year the firm received a no-bid lease for a desirable county property on Washington Avenue that will become part of Towson Row. That lease drew some criticism, as did a county financing arrangement for the firm's renovation of the long-empty Towson City Center office building — a $7.5 million package, of which $3.5 million could be forgiven. That project is credited with restoring confidence and interest in downtown Towson.

Adler wrote that the infrastructure and approvals needed for community development require the public and private sectors to work "hand-in-hand."

"Without it, progressive, compelling, self-sustaining and vibrant community development — regardless of location — would not happen," he said. "Simply put, we believe that good government requires smart, honest and straightforward people in elected office."

Paul Hartman, president of the umbrella neighborhood group the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said campaign donations from developers are "just the way it works" in Baltimore County, where politicians have a large say in zoning and development approvals. He said his group has spoken to the firm about the Towson Row proposal and has been pleased by its willingness so far to have a dialogue with the community.

"They seem very amenable to listen to ideas and requests, and we feel like we can have some input to help make the project stronger," Hartman said. "We do wish them success, particularly on the Towson Row project, because any kind of failure would be a disaster."

nsherman@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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