For downtown property owner Mike McLister, there’s beauty in the details.
He proudly shows off his treasured projects. Handsome offices on King Street. Another office on Loudoun Street, in the former Eiffel Tower Restaurant space. Apartments nearby that seek to attract young and old who have thus far been priced out of downtown Leesburg’s small residential market. And he rolls out plans for another apartment complex, as yet unapproved, on Wirt Street.
McLister just got into the business of buying, renovating, and leasing properties within the past decade. After enjoying early retirement for about a dozen years following the successful sale of his company, McLister got antsy and decided to scope out an office space in downtown Leesburg to start a consulting business. But the 26-year town resident didn’t like what he saw.
“I found there was a void in downtown Leesburg of very nice, professional offices,” he said.
So McLister got to work, and started his first office project, which was quickly leased out. He got approval from his bank to do another office project, which was also successful. But he kept hearing pleas from those working, or with a vested interest, in the downtown area that what it really needed was some nice, yet affordable, places for people to live. His residential projects have been equally successful, and he proudly reports that all of his current apartment and office space downtown is 100 percent occupied.
Filling the need in the downtown residential market was about making available units that attracted “a diversity of income.” McLister notes the attractive apartments are ideal for everyone from school teachers to restaurant workers to firefighters to young professionals and more.
And he hasn’t skimped on the details in creating his projects, of which he has done five in the past four years. Granite countertops, laminate flooring, stainless steel appliances, and in-unit washers and dryers, are just some of the features that come in every apartment unit built by McLister. The office units come just as nicely furnished. And he points to the extensive work done before walls are up—new electric, plumbing, and HV/AC units run on natural gas.
He has relied on a team of industry experts to grow his business—local Realtor Gwen Pangle, who serves as his property manager, and builder Paul Reimers.
His proposed project on Wirt Street, between Loudoun and Royal streets, would create an urban infill project on a piece of property that McLister notes hasn’t contributed to town tax rolls since 1758. If approved, the three-floor, nine-unit apartment building would bring up to $1 million in annual revenue to the town, he estimates, by way of tax payments, business/professional/occupational licenses, and meals taxes paid by the residents who would frequent downtown restaurants.
McLister is hopeful that the Town Council will look at changing the parking regulations placed on downtown developers. He said the high fees charged when parking spaces can’t be provided on-site can hamstring projects before they get off the ground. He recently made a public plea to the Town Council to scrutinize the regulations and find a better solution that would generate more projects like his from other property owners.
He holds up a tax assessment to make his point, showing that one of his property’s assessments increased 56 percent. And he’s not complaining.
“This is what the town can have [in terms of tax revenues] by improving and restoring our core assets,” he said.
For the longtime business owner, building and restoring downtown properties was never a trade he imagined he’d get into. But the pride he gets from the outcomes keeps him motivated.
“It’s neat because you can see [the projects] and touch them and feel them,” he said. “You can see that the businesses are doing so well, and can see that residents are happy and comfortable and enjoy that they were able to find a beautiful place to live in downtown Leesburg.”