By ALWYN DIPPENAAR
With buzz building about the long-awaited streetcar line that will soon traverse the length of the developing H Street, N.E., commercial corridor, gay business owner Chris Swanson is very upbeat about the future of the area. The launch of a unique transportation mode “can only help H Street thrive even more,” Swanson says.
Swanson is founder and principal of the business Evolve Property Management, now operating out of a beautifully renovated two-level storefront with a contemporary façade across the street from entertainment and bar neighborhood pioneer Rock and Roll Hotel, in the 1300 block near the historic avenue’s landmark Atlas Performing Arts Center.
Evolve has focused almost exclusively in the increasingly dynamic area since launching in 1997, where the firm manages a wide range of residential and mixed-use buildings. Evolve also provides both buyers and sellers with real estate services, and has renovated several properties over the years.
When Swanson and his partner Jeff Printz purchased the nearby Pierce School in 2000 – a city-abandoned Northeast Washington schoolhouse at the corner of 14th and G streets – it was “no more than a big pigeon nest.” After major construction, renovation and restoration, the historic building was bestowed a renewed usage. The property was repurposed as nearly a dozen loft-style condominiums, one of which Swanson and Printz call home. Blackboards, vintage school clocks and American flags remain prominent icons in each “classroom” loft residence. There is also an art gallery on the first floor of the building, offering viewings by appointment.
The local business manages a diverse mix of buildings, ranging from newly constructed buildings and recent renovations to established properties. Swanson’s favorite buildings to manage are newly renovated ones, but he finds that any property has its own types of unique challenges.
Evolve provides client buildings a full complement of maintenance and resident services, and integrates an online messaging and communication system. Offering extensive on-staff expertise, the firm looks to identify new ways to meet service needs. It makes the resident living experience convenient for tenants and hassle-free for property owners. On-site teams repair properties when needed and additional services such as housekeeping, snow removal, grounds maintenance, common area cleaning and pest control management are among the options provided.
The gregarious and forward-thinking businessman, when asked about his chosen professional career and responsibilities overseeing the company said, “I love it to bits.” Swanson is quick to add that Evolve’s client-centric service philosophy allows them to enjoy a brand distinction among the marketplace of providers. “Quality living and leasing experiences is what residents and commercial tenants expect,” he points out, noting that his firm offers “top locations, quality buildings, appealing amenities and responsive service delivery.” In addition, Evolve obtains, improves, markets and manages company-held properties.
One such endeavor is a building adjacent to the company’s office, opening as Red Rocks Pizza. The restaurant will feature an upper floor with a retractable rooftop opening to the outdoors. Helping develop the property for this commercial use is one of Swanson’s passions. Again touting the coming streetcar line, he envisions night-time patrons hopping on and off the vehicles to stop in at the many restaurants and bars along the boulevard. He refers to this as “redefining the meaning of ‘bar-hopping’.”
With his company firmly established and continuing to expand its activities, Swanson also envisions the opportunity for a gay and lesbian-centric bar to open in the area, joining an expanding number of restaurants, casual eateries and bars beginning to thrive in the area.
Swanson has often thought about opening such an establishment in the neighborhood, perhaps in the next several years. Given his success in developing unique residential and commercial building projects over the years, Swanson would be the man for the job.