Real Estate

Bringing Resilience To The Table: Philanthropist Adrienne Arsht Discusses Her Real Estate Portfolio And How She Built A Successful Second Act In Philanthropy

“I literally know when I walk in the front door,” says Adrienne Arsht, discussing how she knows when she wants to buy a property and the multiple high-profile transactions she has been involved in over several decades. Arsht spoke from her home in Chevy Chase, Maryland which she purchased for $10 million in 2020, down from its original asking price of $25.9 million. Formerly known as the Corby Estate, for William S. Corby who purchased the home in 1909, Arsht renamed the two-acre property “The Folly” after extensive renovations which included adding a namesake folly to one end of the reflecting pool.

At the time Arsht also owned a large Miami estate, where she had lived for several decades during her time at the helm of TotalBank (which she sold to Banco Popular Español for $300 million in 2007). Last year she sold her Miami property to Citadel founder and CEO Ken Griffin for $106.875 million, making it the most expensive real estate transfer on record in Miami history and landing her on the list of 2022’s highest priced home sales of the year, one of only several women to make the list.

When describing her initial thoughts of the Miami property, which contained both a main house and a separate guest house listed on the National Register of Historic Places that had fallen into disrepair, Arsht explains, “the talk around town ‘was what an idiot, she bought that house’. I looked at it [in April of that year] and it was it was a teardown. I said I came down here to run a bank not fix up a house. So I said no. Then in June I thought about it and thought I can do both. So I went back and bought the property.”

Arsht’s major upgrades to the 5,000-square foot guest house made it liveable once more and is where she hosted many of the events she has become known for throughout her business and philanthropic work. That building has made the news once again since Griffin proposed moving the building to a more publicly accessible location.

In a similar storyline to her Miami purchase, Arsht also almost didn’t buy The Folly since the asking price was vastly different from what she felt the property was worth. “I told them 12 [million] was my top price and I never heard from them. So I bought a house in Georgetown.” Eventually a representative for the sellers got back in touch with Arsht and let her know the sellers were ready to accept an offer.

“When this became available I realized this was so much better that I needed find a way to sell the other properties,” says Arsht, who owned two other properties locally in addition to the Georgetown home she purchased when it seemed The Folly wouldn’t be available. The Georgetown home had been owned by a long list of Washington D.C. luminaries, most recently C.Boyden Gray, former ambassador to the European Union. “There was a Sunday in the real estate section that I had three houses for sale,” she says.

Arsht, never one to shy away from a major renovation project, overhauled The Folly significantly while still keeping with the historic protections since it is also listed on the National Register. The renovation added an elevator, uncovered an expanse of white tiles which revealed the original herringbone wood floors underneath, created a glass-enclosed living room (the “Aviary”) and completely redid the third floor since it was ‘a rabbit warren of rooms and closets’.

The Folly appealed to her because it had a built-in organ and enough space for a small orchestra to perform. “Once I saw that room,” commented Arsht, “I was ready to leave [and] just put in my offer.”

“Adapt,” says Arsht of her philosophy to both real estate and the efforts to which she has devoted her time in both public and private life. “I never thought of losing. Quitting is just adapting to your new circumstances. This wasn’t available. So I bought something in Georgetown.”

During the Covid social distancing requirements, Arsht adapted by hosting musical concerts in her driveway. At first guests would sit far apart, with plexiglass dividers (Dr Anthony Fauci, former Chief Medical Advisor, was a guest at least once so the rules were definitely followed, she said). Once restrictions eased somewhat she moved the gatherings indoors using large HEPA filters to mitigate virus transmission.

Arsht distributes the guest list ahead of time and ensures the different attendees will have enough in common to ensure a lively conversation. She goes one step further with a now-famous tradition of having guests select a silver napkin ring from her 127-piece collection which dates to as early as 1869. Each ring has a unique, small figure which guests are to select based on how it reminds them of a personal anecdote. Then, as a conversation starter, guests share the story behind why they chose each one.

Arsht says she hosts many book parties, with a microphone set-up for the author, such as the one she held for author and NPR host Nina Totenberg. Then there are the evening dinners, including the recent one for four-star generals and a dinner for several dozen journalists to meet with Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami who was in town for the Conference of Mayors.

Arsht’s commitment to Miami hasn’t waned since selling her home there. Amongst her many philanthropic contributions, she donated $30 million to the Miami-Dade County’s Performing Arts Center, which was subsequently renamed in her honor as the Adrienne Arsht Center. In 2004, Arsht became the first woman to join the Million Dollar Roundtable of United Way of Miami-Dade County. Several of the boards she sits on are: the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Lincoln Center and the National Advisory Board of the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute for American Democracy. She also helped found the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center which supports actions to build solutions to climate change.

In keeping with Arsht’s commitment to philanthropic causes, these events are known for bringing together leaders in their respective fields so they can connect with one another and continue a relationship after the event. Even the renovations of the home were designed to facilitate conversation and forging of new connections with a comfortable flow between rooms and seating areas conducive to strangers being able to talk easily in a group.

“I hate to miss conversation. I really get FOMO, when two of them are talking there and two of them there,” says Arsht, gesturing to the different seating areas of a living room. “So I make everybody sit here and have one conversation.”

She says it always leads to a surprising result, referring most recently to a dinner where Avis Renshaw (of Mom’s Apple Pie Company, a business which Arsht helped build) was talking with Charlene and Charles Brown, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, only to find that their daughters lived in the same tiny town in upstate New York. “You always find that there’s a connection you never expected.”

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