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The Big Building Height Question
September 27, 2013

The Big
Building Height

The District is telling Congress that taller buildings wouldn't just look good, they'd pour money into city coffers. (And we could put extra coffers in the taller buildings.) We polled some of the region's biggest owners and developers for their two cents on the topic.

Boston Properties' Ray Ritchey

Ray's a supporter of lifting the height limits, as long as it's outside the monumental core. "Specifically up the 'Avenues'—Georgia, Connecticut, and Wisconsin." Building higher east of the river might be a good move, he says, to give the city more affordable housing. But Ray points out a slight increase in the height limit within the monumental core might also work, as long as the character of the Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue are protected.
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StonebridgeCarras' Doug Firstenberg

"DC is unique for many reasons, and one of them is the skyline," says Doug, who says he'd prefer to maintain the current height limit in the District. A minor change to allow penthouses on downtown buildings is okay with Doug, since it won't actually surpass the current height limit of about 130 feet in most areas.

MRP Realty's Bob Murphy

Pennsylvania Avenue is a real candidate for taller buildings, Bob says, with its already high 160-feet height limit. "But I think it's at least 10 years out, maybe 20. And when it happens, it will be in very select areas." Bob tells us lifting the height restrictions might be limited to hubs with Metro stations that serve multiple lines, to accommodate the increased density. But at the end of the day, the city's running out of areas to grow laterally, so growing vertically might be the only future option.

Abdo Development's Jim Abdo

A "height phobia" has been pervasive throughout the city for as long as Jim can remember. But Jim says going taller might bring a renaissance to neighborhoods (east of the river, particularly) in need of revitalization. Lifting the restrictions outside the city center (in spots like the New York Avenue corridor) might be the way to go, Jim says, since it's worked in other world capitals like Paris. "With that said, we need to go out of our way to protect the view corridors and the iconic parts of city that stay true to L'Enfant's design."

Brookfield's Greg Meyer

Modifying the height restrictions might be a way for owners to renovate and redevelop older office product in the Golden Triangle and East End, which have little available land for development, Greg says. But "the key will be to modify zoning thoughtfully so that key view corridors and skyline are not negatively impacted."

J Street's Bruce Baschuk

Bruce (snapped this summer with FCP's Esko Korhonen) agrees with Jim that taller buildings might be best used to spark growth in underserved neighborhoods. The city's got plenty of undeveloped FAR, he says, which has been spread out successfully in neighborhoods like NoMa, Capitol Riverfront, and 14th Street. Bruce suggests spreading it out even further (with taller buildings) to areas such as Anacostia, Walter Reed, or even Hill East.

So what do YOU think? Should Congress give in and lift the restrictions? And if so, where should taller buildings go? Email Chris Baird with your thoughts, and we'll publish the best answers.

Rockrose Rolls Out 1776 Eye

Last night, we stopped by an event celebrating Rockrose's 1776 Eye, which just underwent a $20M renovation. In the new two-story lobby, we snapped the team transforming the building: leasing gurus Bobby Schwartz, Eli Barnes, and Will Stern of Cassidy Turley, Rockrose's Craig Deitelzweig, architect Pei Tan of Leo A Daly, Rockrose prez Justin Elghanayan, and Leo A Daly's Lewis Goetz. Bobby tells us the 3rd and 4th floors (each 24k SF) are still available, and the leasing team is chasing "high-end office users" to fill the blocks. Craig says current rents are in the $60/PSF range at 1776 Eye.

Here's Tim Morrell and Ben Smith of MGA with Bill Grillo of Cassidy, which is also handling property management for the building. Rockrose has been on a buying spree in DC over the past few years, picking up, among others, 1150 18th St, 1900 M, and most recently 2000 L. And Craig says the firm isn't done, telling us Rockrose is close to another DC purchase, to hopefully wrap up in the next 60 days. (Sounds like they're trying to get a building on Black Friday special. Be safe out there, Rockrose.)

Here's the team behind the actual build-out: DFS Construction's JoBen Taylor, Rob Rayburn, Robert DiGiovanni, and Grant Stephens.

Yesterday in Beverly Hills

325 joined us yesterday at the Beverly Wilshire in Los Angeles for our annual summit on capital markets, the state of which are very good in SoCal.

Not too far from Beverly Hills, we stopped for lunch at this modest LA institution, in continuous operation since 1947, and said to be the model for the later Johnny Rockets chain.

It features an extremely limited menu—mainly a cheeseburger, which is really good—and can be ordered, consumed at the counter, and paid for all within 20 minutes. What a business model!

Is this the weekend of over-stimulation? College football, the NFL, the Breaking Bad finale... even Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 opens. What will you be watching? Email chris.baird@bisnow.com

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