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November 4, 2008

Next Bisnow Breakfast & Schmooze: Trends in Real Estate Investing, with ING’s Marc DeLuca, Carlyle Group’s Hayden Jones, and Meridian Group’s Bruce Lane. BLT Steak, Thursday, Nov. 20. Special thanks to Katten Muchin Rosenman, Group Goetz Architects, and Forrester Construction. Sign up here!


Constitution Center, the largest privately owned office building in DC, is one year away from wrapping its $275M renovation. Where, you ask, is Constitution Center? It’s the old DOT building in SW. Oh, that one! Yep, but gutted and re-faced so you couldn’t recognize it. We are property voyeurs, so we called up David Nassif Associates (owner since 1968), and general partner Tim Jaroch slapped on a hard hat to give us a behind-the-scenes look at what he calls DC’s most secure office building.


Tim with general partner Don Jenkins pointing out the old building many of you will recognize; DOT vacated it in ’07 and moved down near the stadium, as loyal readers know. First thing we noticed about Constitution Center is its marketing superlatives:

  1. Largest privately owned office building in DC — by about 200%.  1.4M SF above ground, 690k below.

  2. Largest privately owned parking garage in DC.

  3. Largest private office building renovation in the US to be LEED Gold (pending).

  4. Most energy efficient office building in the District. We’ll take their word.

Over 500 workers are on site each day making sure those things come true.

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Tim’s neon couldn’t distract us from asking about due dates. Essentially four combined towers, the first delivers in April ’09 and the rest in two month intervals. Tim tells us tenant work can actually begin in three months, with move-in possible by early ’10. No, they haven’t landed a lease yet, but say a government agency could best use the high-security infrastructure, though they’re open to multiple private tenants. Tim also tells us the entrance from the L’Enfant subway station, lower right, will feature a “real cool piece of art,” but he left it at that. In cases like this, our editorial policy demands we speculate wildly, so our money is on combining previous DC faves: a statue of a donkey, riding a panda, riding an elephant, riding Pierre L’Enfant.


Let’s talk security. Led by Davis Construction and SmithGroup architects, Tim’s team doubled the thickness of certain parking garage walls to withstand an attack. Other features: curbside blast protection, 640 steel jacketed support columns, and carbon reinforced floors above loading docks and other public areas. Plus, the garage ceilings are high enough to accommodate a tenant’s request for a command center, security office, or secure document storage area. The design can also keep you safe from lead footers: Its drive aisles are 30’ wide (typical width is closer to 19’), so Tim says “it’s like driving on a highway.”


Cassidy and Pinkard’s Bob Hines has been working with Tim as leasing consultant since ‘96 and joined us for the energy efficiency run-down. To cool the behemoth, they’ve installed a state-of-the-art “chilled beam” (as compared to VAV) HVAC. Tim favors its low-maintenance and quiet but says the real perk is it can stand the test of time. As environmental regs get tougher, one can only tinker with a VAV so much before there’s nothing else to modify; to satisfy increasingly tougher energy codes, this completely new design was necessary. We’ll add that it’s imported from Europe, so you know it’s chic. Another green technique is filtering and cooling all fresh water in the basement to eliminate the need for bottled H2O.


We snapped this of Vornado’s Brian Murphy (property manager) in between problem solving. One such solved problem was caused by the airtight blast curtain. In addition to keeping out, well, blasts, it also blocks RF signals. Meaning, no wi-fi. For some reason our suggestion of a 24-hour crew of ham radio operators relaying messages inside the building didn’t excite; instead Brian worked with the owner on a distributed antenna system allowing wireless carriers to set-up a room in the basement to carry transmissions in and out. Now signals are superior, even in the parking garage. It’s even customizable so areas that don’t want wireless (for security) can simply switch it off.


You’re looking at what will soon become a one-acre private park. Tim tells us he went on a worldwide journey to secure materials. He nabbed Jerusalem Stone in Israel’s Negev Desert and granite from Italy, then tapped the Rockies for marble. But that’s not all Tim’s travel; he divides his time between living in DC and Boston.

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