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Whatever happened to . . . Jair Lynch, '93

Vaulting D.C. Neighborhoods

Courtesy Jair Lynch

NEW ROUTINE: Lynch went from acing high-stakes gymnastics to improving run-down areas of Washington, D.C.

On tour for gymnastics competitions in U.S. and European cities, Jair Lynch loved to relax by borrowing the keys to the team van and driving through neighborhoods both glorious and grim. He’d snap pictures, and think about what could be.

Lynch, ’93, grew up in Washington, D.C.’s leafy Shepherd Park neighborhood, but visited poorer sections of the city with his father, a college professor who mentored recovering addicts, and for community service projects with classmates. His love of urban areas deepened at Stanford, where professors used hardscrabble corners of San Francisco as real-life laboratories for imagining change. And so, even as he led Stanford’s men’s gymnastics team to its first national title, in 1992, Lynch was focused on what he’d do next. He majored in civil engineering and urban design, deciding along the way that rebuilding distressed cities could be as rewarding as nailing a perfect parallel bars routine.

After graduating, Lynch learned the real estate business by developing office complexes for a Silicon Valley computer company—taking time off to win a silver medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics. In 1997, he headed home to D.C. and re-explored the working-class neighborhoods he’d known since childhood. “The city is a jewel—the people, the housing stock, the history,” Lynch says. Many of its neighborhoods, once hard-hit by crime and abandoned by the middle class, were drawing a new generation of upwardly mobile urban pioneers.

Lynch founded Jair Lynch Companies in 1998 and focused on projects that appealed to those newcomers as well as longtime residents. “We could build hope for people,” Lynch says. “So that all folks can participate in economic development, so that all boats can continue to rise.”

He says his goal as a developer is holistic: to bring jobs, shops and both modest and more upscale housing to neighborhoods at risk of becoming become so pricey that old-timers are forced out. “It’s the middle ground between stagnation and gentrification,” he says. “I think a lot of people are recognizing that polarization is not a sustainable model.”

Jair Lynch Companies recently transformed a run-down rental apartment complex into a tenant-owned cooperative, preventing the displacement of 75 low-income families in a rapidly gentrifying area. It is building apartments and retail near a new Metrorail station and on a parcel of land left empty since race riots swept the city in 1968. The company also was chosen as a minority partner to build apartments, shops and offices in the historically neglected area around the soon-to-be-constructed Washington Nationals baseball stadium.

Juggling major construction projects, Lynch says, requires the same steely nerves as high-stakes gymnastics. “If you have a fall or a miss, you have to get your composure and move on to the next event,” he says. “With development, you may have a temporary issue on a project that may look like gloom and doom . . . it can’t stop you from moving forward.”


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