Although, by his own admission, he has essentially been retired for the past 10 years, Roger Machanic was just named the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce Business Leader of The Year for 2002. Perhaps that's because the operative word is "leader."
That is what Machanic has been throughout his career and his life. And, the results of that leadership are visible in all areas of the Alexandria landscape — from office buildings to residential properties.
It is also visible in the vibrancy and influence exhibited by the Chamber. It was during his presidency in 1982 that many changes and innovations were initiated. The fruits of those decisions are being enjoyed by today's leadership.
A native of Burlington, Vt., Machanic received his degree in Economics from Harvard in 1955. He came to this area in the early 1960's, following his release from the U.S. Army. His brother, who also had been in the Army, was stationed in Washington and Machanic came to join him.
He worked as a stock broker for Ferris and Company in the District. "That didn't last too long because I really didn't like the stock brokerage business," he confided. "I bought an old building on Capitol Hill to restore it and turn it into an office building."
MACHANIC THEN married his wife Grace, and moved to Alexandria. "Since she was a Virginia girl they accepted this Yankee," he joked. The year was 1965 and Alexandria was a very different place.
"It was a lot more industrial. But there was a determination that the historical past had to be preserved. That's when I started my first residential project. There were 10 townhouses across [south] Royal Street from the Old Town Safeway and I did it with no money," he recalled.
"I got a call from Nancy Macklin who had Macklin Real Estate. She said she heard I had done some restoration in D.C. and wanted me to develop the land across from the Safeway," Machanic explained.
"So I put in a contract for the full price but I also put a clause in that contract for Safeway to take back a subordinated trust. When it came to settle their attorney said Safeway had never done that. But, when he called their headquarters in California they agreed and we were underway," he remembered.
One of the things he remembers about that initial effort was "how receptive the natives were to a newcomer to Old Town. They were very helpful in so many ways."
FROM THE BEGINNING, Machanic went on to build the Tannery, Canal Place, Canal Way, and the townhouses that now occupy the land that once held the Riverside Garden Apartments among his endeavors. "We just kept building," he said.
"It has never been an easy process in Alexandria, with all the review and approval processes. But, that has brought about the city we enjoy today," Machanic noted.
In the 1970's he branched out into commercial development with the founding of Jefferson Square, Inc., which became Development Resources Inc. [DRI]. Under that banner Machanic built office structures throughout the area. One of the most prominent examples in Alexandria is the complex known as Duke Street Square which consumes the 1600 block.
Machanic sold DRI in 1984 to Greg and Candy Fazakerley. He had met them as neighbors and brought them into the firm several years earlier. "Greg worked on the development side and Candy in sales," he noted.
During the presentation ceremonies at the Chamber dinner, Greg Fazakerley noted, "I think all of us, as individuals, have people that come through our lives that cause a turning point. Life would not have been the same if we had not met them. Roger Machanic is that person for Candy and I."
He further emphasized, "I don't think there has been a finer example of a dedicated person that I have worked with that has placed a higher value on the quality of his work, the people around him, and the well being of the community at large."
The Fazakerleys eventually moved DRI headquarters from Alexandria to Washington where it continues to add to, and change the skyline of the nation's Capital.
ANOTHER SPEAKER that evening was Jack Taylor, owner of Jack Taylor's Alexandria Toyota. "You can't say a bad word about Roger. I don't know of anyone who has given more advise to more people to help them and had it followed," he insisted. "He gave me advice that has enabled me to own all of my dealership."
Taylor reflected, "He is so steady and keeps his eye on the compass. I have more admiration for him than any other business leader in Alexandria."
To Ken Moore, president and CEO of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, "Roger Machanic has been a dedicated leader for all of Alexandria, not just the business community. He has been concerned for its future and preserving the quality of life we all enjoy," he said.
Not one to limit his options, Machanic also established one of the first executive office complexes in the city in the mid 1980's. It was housed in the Crilley complex, 218 N. Lee St. Always the pragmatist, "It gave me an office after I left DRI," he acknowledged.
During the same period, Machanic agreed to serve as the chairman of First Commonwealth Savings and Loan. "It was not a particularly good time for the Savings and Loan business, if you recall," he mused. "We were able to turn it around in three years and sell it. But, it got a little nerve racking because you could not buy directors insurance due to the problems with savings and loans nationwide."
TURNING THINGS AROUND has been his specialty. When a local bank ended up owning 300 Montgomery Street as a result of a bankruptcy, Machanic went to them and convinced them to sell it to him. "It was in terrible shape and scheduled to be demolished," he said.
Machanic and his son Bruce, renovated it and now own the whole block. "We have 35 business tenants. Bruce is the principal broker. We are still renovating," he emphasized, sitting in the conference room of their second floor suite of offices now known as MRE Properties, Inc.
Bruce Machanic, president of MRE, says that, "Both in business and life, my dad's integrity, straight forwardness and sense of humor have always set a example for me."
The entrepreneurial spirit is also evident in both his wife Grace, and their daughter Laura. Machanic's wife has taught ballet in Alexandria for the past 35 years. "I think every girl who has studied ballet in Alexandria studied under her," said one former student.
Laura Machanic is now the president and CEO of her own internet design and development firm, New Target, headquartered at 228 S. Washington St. Prior to entering the world of technology, Laura worked in the travel field, both in Russia and Alexandria.
Laura gave a glimpse into her father's character recently. When she was told that he had just had a cataract operation in the morning but would be in that afternoon her response was, "That's just like him. He never tells you when something affects him personally. He just does it."
Maybe that's because he views, "One of the real joys is having our children living near by, Laura in Alexandria and Bruce in Fairfax County." But, as a developer, Machanic pointed out, "Bruce's house is bigger than ours on South Fairfax Street and for a lot less in cost."
IT WAS THAT analytical mind that played a central role in transforming Alexandria from an industrial to a high tech and service-oriented economy. As president of the Chamber he was influential in getting management and service businesses to locate in the city.
"When Time Life came in it was a real change. It was the first class A business to locate here," Machanic recalled. "I knew we had to get our share of government, associations, and other businesses of that nature to locate here if we were to grow and develop the tax base necessary to meet the challenges."
"I think it is essential for Alexandria to have quality office buildings. That's why I have been, and continue to be, in favor of the PTO coming to Alexandria. But, traffic is also our biggest problem," he emphasized. "We have got to create more incentives for people to car pool and use public transit."
Roger Machanic has not only talked the talk over the years, but he has walked the walk in all facets of community services and involvement. He is a trustee emeritus and former treasurer of the George Mason University Foundation, a past president of the Alexandria Building Industry Association, a member of the Harvard Club of Washington, D.C., and a former vice president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
His local civic contributions, in addition to his involvement with the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, include being a former director of the Alexandria Seaport Foundation and Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, and service as a past chairman of the Alexandria United Way.
In presenting the award at the Chamber dinner it was noted that he was chosen because of his "leadership and commitment to the Alexandria business community throughout the years." Those two attributes were hardly limited to the business community. Roger Machanic's leadership and commitment have been, and continue to be, to the "community" in its broadest context.