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January 14, 2008


Bisnow Breakfast & Schmooze with Victor MacFarlane! City Club, Jan. 29.  Come meet and hear one of the great new figures on the Washington scene. Big thanks to our sponsors: Group Goetz, Arnold & Porter, and Reznick Group.  Sign up

We here at Bisnow will probably never understand fancy terms like cap rates, FAR density, TDRs, and absorption, but “trophy” sounds easy.  Or is it?  We thought there might be some official definition, but turns out it’s a purely informal, subjective thing.  We decided to interview the experts.

We headed over to JLL’s 1801 K office and quizzed Amy Bowser and Trip Howell – the originators of the bi-yearly “Trophy Market Report” (now in its 4th year).  They’re actually holding the latest, but it’s embargoed until their Capital Perspective presentation on the 22nd—so don’t zoom in on the picture for an early peek.  They told us that DC trophy stock is roughly the top third of Class A space in the market and rents for $65+/SF.  In 2004, it was $50/SF, so the threshold has soared with the market.  But prices don’t seem to deter tenants: Trip says there’s only a .04% vacancy rate for DC trophies, meaning that of 11.1M SF, there’s only 47k in inventory.   


Then we headed to CBRE brokers Bobby Blair, Bruce Pascal, and Mark Klug.  Bruce says trophies exceed the norm in these ways:

  • Exceptional architecture:  They include high-end features you wouldn’t usually see—like 801 17th’s triple pane glass. A celebrity architect, like Kevin Roche, doesn’t hurt.
  • Less value-engineering:  Trophies pour extra money into infrastructure and use highest quality materials.
  • Higher ceilings: In 2008 the minimum would be 8’10.”
  • Top drawer management: Tenants feel like they’re staying at the Four Seasons, not the Holiday Inn.  Plus, there’s a concierge as opposed to a “guard.”
  • Classy amenities:  Things like a rooftop deck, conference facility, or posh fitness center.
  • Views/Location:  Think Evening Star at 1101 Penn Ave
  • Cost:  There’s that top dollar again. 

Staubach’s Ellen Herman says location is the first factor to consider.  Something on the fringe won't be trophy status. Also, newness doesn’t automatically equal trophy – or even Class A.


Cresa’s Tom Birnbach, above with Russell Canard, tells us the term is grossly over-used.  Tom says a trophy should have a five-star hotel feel.  In fact, he happened to be in the Terrell Place lobby last week before a Wizard’s game when his young son commented, “Daddy, what a nice hotel!”  


Transwestern’s Mark Richardson tells us he sees three factors:

  • Quality:  The highest grade materials available for construction.  And if it’s new, it’s got to be green.  In fact, LEED-certified
  • Location:  Must be accepted as one of the best locations in the submarket.
  • White glove service:  Though it comes with a price, anything the tenants want, they get. 

Some local trophies according to Mark?  The Warner Theater Building, 1101 New York, 101 Constitution, 975 F Street, Homer Building, 1300 Eye, and Hamilton Square. 


Grubb & Ellis’ Aaron Pomerantz’s defines trophy as a building at the top of the market with a “little something extra.” But he also acknowledges “it’s a gut thing.”  He says that in general trophies are newer, although older buildings like the Willard and the Warner Building certainly make the grade.

In short, just like Justice Stewart said about obscenity:  Hard to define, but you know it when you see it

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