By Frances Killpatrick
“Call Me Jon” Peterson
Jon Peterson was recently named CEO of Peterson Companies – now one of the largest privately held real estate companies in the Washington, D.C. area. In addition to National Harbor, their developments include Fairfax Corner, Fair Lakes, Virginia Gateway, Downtown Silver Spring, Burke Center, and Tysons McLean Office Park. Milton Peterson, “Milt”, Jon’s father, founded Peterson Companies 52 years ago and Jon, two of his brothers and his sister have long been a part of the organization. The National Harbor development is one of Milt’s pet projects and Jon is carrying on the dream. While Milt passed the baton to Jon earlier this spring, he said, with a smile, “Retired is not the word for my dad. He is doing what he wants to do when he wants to do it and leaving the rest to me.” He acknowledges that his father has been a great mentor.
National Harbor is celebrating a landmark birthday this year. The now familiar sight on the Maryland shore is ten years old this month. The Old Town Crier thought it only fitting to profile the man that has taken over the reins.
Interviewed in the offices at National Harbor – with their spectacular views of the river, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and the impressive Capital Wheel (which is fantastically lit at night), with water taxis taking people back and forth between Old Town, the DC Wharf and the Harbor in the background – Peterson spoke of his vision for National Harbor in the next ten years.
“Not many people have had so much success in so few years,” said Jon, “There were a lot of non-believers in the beginning. We had to start everything ourselves from the bottom up – the hotels, restaurants, and retail as well as the residential.”
“One of our challenges,” he said, “is that some people who don’t like gaming – and that’s just fine- think the MGM Casino is in downtown National Harbor. They are a mile apart and totally separate.” One of their goals is to educate people that “National Harbor” is more than just the resort area that encompasses the waterfront from the carousel to the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center.
“We consider ourselves an adventurous family – we would have to be to do what we do,” Milt told me when I interviewed him six years ago. Jon added to that during this interview, “But we don’t rush into anything.”
“We still have a lot of land for development,” Jon said. “In fact, some of our best real estate is yet to be developed, including the water front area north of the Gaylord Resort.”
That said, National Harbor is expanding. A five-story medical office building that will complement the medical facilities already available is already under construction. Additional residential projects are going up on an ongoing basis. He tells me that they are planning another hotel or two and are looking into some new entertainment venues – Top Golf will be opening in the very near future.
Admit it, it’s intriguing to know what kind of person can stay calm and deal with millions of dollars every day and even say he often finds his job “fun”. Jon is one of those people.
He’s good-looking, fit and with a “Call me Jon” personality. He has been “involved in all aspects of the build-to-suit, purchase and acquisition, sale, leasing and financing of commercial properties” to quote a press release.
He also has a very active personal life.
“My family is everything” he said, in a previous interview. He and Anne have three grown sons, Chris and Tim out on their own and Nick is a senior at Middlebury College and a member of the lacrosse team where an injury is keeping him on the sidelines for now. Still, Jon goes to every game, a situation any lacrosse parent will understand.
Lacrosse has played an integral part in his life. He followed his lacrosse-playing father to Middlebury College in Vermont where he met his wife, Anne, also a lacrosse player and the rest is history. It became a family tradition. Jon plays lacrosse to this day and it didn’t sound like he plans to give up his helmet, gloves and stick anytime soon.
The Peterson families vacation together at their place in Maine and there are ski trips to Colorado. Once a friend asked, speaking of almost the entire family holding executive positions in Peterson Companies, “You work together and you vacation together. What’s wrong with you guys?”
Jon has a very philanthropic nature. “We were taught,” he says, “because we were fortunate, we were to give back to the community.” Jon belongs to more organizations than can be listed here, while his siblings and Milt also have numerous charities they promote.
One of Jon’s that is definitely worth mentioning is Joe Gibb’s Youth For Tomorrow. Jon has served as president of the Board of Directors and remains very active.
“This was started to help at-risk troubled youth,” Jon said. “At first it was only boys, but now young women are helped. Our issues include teenage pregnancy and sex trafficking. Last year we helped 2,200 young adults.” The Joe Jacoby Golf Tournament which Jon chairs also benefits Youth For Tomorrow.
Let’s get back to this landmark tenth anniversary, pretty amazing. If you haven’t taken the opportunity to visit the Harbor, take a walk about the clean streets, do some shopping at any number and variety of stores, maybe buy some “Peeps”, have a casual or formal dinner and perhaps a cocktail, spend a night or two, stroll the waterfront, see a sunset, enjoy some entertainment. It seems to have been there always, but it’s only ten years old and more is coming.
Congratulations to Jon and Happy Birthday to National Harbor.
Publishers Note: Be sure to check out the National Harbor section in this issue for information about the birthday celebration!