Matt Barry Hired to Lead Retail Revitalization at Union Station
Matt Barry, a longtime developer in the DMV, was named new general manager of Union Station at the end of 2022, working for Rexmark, which took over the iconic train station and Washington, D.C.’s largest transportation center in August 2022.
Barry comes in after a year of turmoil for the station. Last April, Amtrak, which utilizes Union Station as its headquarters building, filed an eminent domain claim to take control of the station from Ashkenazy Acquisitions, which at that point held the long-term sublease for the property’s commercial space.
Real-estate investment manager Rexmark foreclosed on the leasehold interest in June after Ashkenazy defaulted on its loan. At the time, Amtrak offered $250 million in exchange for Ashkenazy’s leasehold interest
This summer, Ashkenazy and Rexmark went toe to toe for control of the train station in U.S. District Court in New York, with Rexmark getting control of the transit hub on Aug. 23 per court decision. (The Amtrak case is still ongoing.)
Barry is now the man tasked with revitalizing what is one of the busiest shopping centers in D.C. He most recently served as assistant vice president of property management for Tysons Corner Center, the largest mall in the Baltimore-Washington area, and the 22nd largest in the United States, with 2.4 million square feet of retail.
Over his career, Barry also worked at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, where he successfully led three Maryland regional shopping and commercial assets and was the operations manager for Visit Baltimore, in which he marketed the city as a destination for tourism and conventions.
In his new role, Barry is overseeing Rexmark’s effort to reinvigorate Union Station as it looks to reopen numerous retail locations and add new tenants to spaces impacted by the pandemic.
Barry spoke with Commercial Observer about his plans to ensure Union Station thrives in the years ahead. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What made you interested in taking on this role?
It’s a fantastic asset and an iconic asset, and having the chance to come here where there’s some huge upside, the opportunity was tremendous. I’m from the area, I grew up in Chevy Chase and went to high school across the street at Gonzaga, so this is my metro stop, and it’s good to be back here X amount of years later. I’m very excited to be here and being a part of its new history.
What are your goals for 2023?
I’ve been here about a month, and some of the goals we’ve already started on. But one of those is to increase cleaning, safety and adding lighting. We’ve already increased all those budgets and put into place an ambassador program, which is security, but they’re in maroon coats. They will be at the front of the house when you come in. With lighting, we’re increasing some of the short-term stuff, but also some of the longer-term stuff with LEDs and really lighting the place up so it’s bright and welcoming.
Our traffic has gone up in 2022, increasing 180 percent over 2021, but it’s still under 2019. In 2023, we look forward to continuing the upswing and those numbers coming back.
The pandemic resulted in the closing of numerous stores in Union Station. What’s happening with leasing now?
Since I’ve been here, we’ve reopened three stores from the pandemic — Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s and Jersey Mike’s. Those are all back in business. We also signed two more under construction which will open later this year — Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, which will be doing a second location.
What we’re hearing from the leasing and brokerage community is people would love to be here. I’m busy having people in who want to see space, and that’s a good challenge to have. One of the challenges in the Downtown market is finding space, and we have it. With the strength of my operational experience and our leasing brokers in town, there’s going to be some really cool stuff here in the future.
Talk about your initiative to attract new events and expand Union Station’s event space.
Pre-COVID, we had the big inauguration balls and we have great space for weddings at our presidential suite or in the main hall, and we’re looking forward to getting back to that a little bit. The calendar for 2023 and 2024 is much better than it’s been. We also have the ability to have fantastic catered events and some pop-ups. You can come into the main hall and pop up for a few days, and the amount of eyeballs that get on that is well worth the rent. I look forward to bringing more of those experiences together.
Longer term, what is your strategy?
We have a 10-year plan in place. Growth is what we’re always looking for. Clearly, our current strategy is to lease up and provide a fantastic customer experience. We have some major overhauls and some improvements planned. It’s been a great place in the past and has been here a long time, and will continue to be an iconic asset.
Why is there optimism that Union Station can get back to the pre-COVID numbers?
The return to office, the return of the commuter, some of the new residential that is now here so there’s a place to shop for some of their goods and/or evening activities. We were very busy in December because of what happened at the airports. A lot of people switched to trains. From what we’re seeing here, we’re still multifaceted — office workers, the locals and tourists. This summer we expect a much larger tourist population than last year, and we feel that’s a great opportunity for us.
Keith Loria can be reached at Kloria@commercialobserver.com.