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Developers Included In D.C.'s Amazon HQ2 Bids Still Moving Forward With Original Site Plans

Amazon received 238 proposals last month for its $5B Amazon HQ2 and has not announced a clear decision timeline. While the owners of development sites included in D.C.’s four submissions are hopeful they could land the tech giant, many are still moving forward with their original plans, many of which call for building apartments, not offices.

A rendering of Akridge and Western Development's planned River Point project at Buzzard Point.

The first phase of D.C.'s Anacostia Riverfront submission includes 610K SF of office at River Point, the site of the former Coast Guard HQ.

In order to meet Amazon's requirement for a 2019 move-in, the developers would renovate the former Coast Guard building, which has 10.5-foot ceiling heights and sits on the point where the Potomac and Anacostia rivers meet. But Akridge and Western Development, the team that acquired the site in August 2016, already have plans to move ahead soon on a residential conversion. 

The JV in July received Zoning Commission approval to redevelop the property into a mixed-use building with more than 400 residential units and 70K SF of retail. The team has planned to begin construction in early spring and said its inclusion in the HQ2 bid has not changed that timeline.

If Amazon were to select the site by the spring, it would pivot to office, but Western Development CEO Herb Miller said they will otherwise begin the multifamily conversion as planned.

"We're starting in the spring," Miller said. "Hopefully, by that time, Amazon has made a decision. We welcome them and think it would be a perfect location for them, but we've got partnerships and lots of money invested. We need to proceed intelligently with the great plan we currently have if Amazon doesn't make a decision before we start construction." 

Miller said the development team has secured leases with users for some of the retail space, though he could not provide specifics. He said the development will include waterfront restaurants, a food hall and a farmers market. 

A rendering of MRP Realty and Florida Rock Properties' mixed-use project in Capitol Riverfront, with Phase 2 in the center and the future phases on the left

Just up the Anacostia River, another mixed-use development in the works south of Nationals Park is moving ahead as planned despite the area's inclusion in the Amazon bid. 

MRP Realty plans to break ground early next year on 71 Potomac, the second phase of its mixed-use project near the Ballpark where Dock 79 delivered last year. Phase 2 will include 253 residential units and 12,500 SF of retail. 

The developer chose not to include the Phase 2 parcel in the Amazon submission, instead moving forward as planned with the multifamily component. But it did include the sites of the development's third and fourth phases, which had been planned for office and hotel. 

Also included in the riverfront submission is MRP's Buzzard Point site at Half and S streets SW. The developer acquired the site in spring 2016 and considered it a long-term play, so it had not begun moving forward with any plans yet. The two adjacent parcels could support roughly 750K SF of development.

"Those are future developments and we don't have concrete plans," MRP principal John Begert said. "They were easy parcels to include in the Amazon submission." 

The Anacostia Riverfront HQ2 submission included 16.9M SF of total development between Capitol Riverfront, Buzzard Point and Poplar Point. That is more than double the square footage Amazon needs, giving developers flexibility to pursue other uses.

"Amazon only has a requirement for 8M SF of office, so we could come up with a blend with residential and hotel," Capitol Riverfront BID President Michael Stevens said. "We included 16.9M SF just to show we have flexibility not only in the phasing, but in the amount of square footage we can provide for ancillary uses." 

A rendering of MRP Realty's plans for the future phases of Washington Gateway in NoMa

MRP also has a parcel included in D.C.'s NoMa-Union Market proposal for HQ2. The submission included Phase 2 of Washington Gateway, a mixed-use project on Florida Avenue where MRP delivered the Elevation apartment building in 2014. 

The initial plans for Phase 2 called for a two-tower office building, but MRP last year decided to alter its proposal. It has been going through the entitlement process to flip the north tower to multifamily with the option to also change the south tower to residential. 

MRP Managing Principal Bob Murphy said it is still moving ahead on rezoning the project to residential, but would consider switching it back to office if Amazon comes knocking.

"We're going to keep doing what we're doing, and if we get short-listed, we'd probably look at [changing] it," Murphy said. 

A rendering of Foulger-Pratt's Press House at Union District development

Another NoMa development included in the HQ2 submission was Foulger-Pratt's Press House at Union District. The 1.5-acre mixed-use development at 301 N St. NE is planned to include 372 residential units, a 175-room hotel and 30K SF of retail. 

The development received approval late last year, and Foulger-Pratt had hoped to break ground this fall, but it has been held up by an appeal from a group of active opponents. 

Foulger-Pratt Chairman Bryant Foulger said he expects the appeal to be resolved soon. He said the site's inclusion in the Amazon submission does not change the developer's calculus, and it plans to move forward on the project as planned. 

Even if Amazon picks NoMa, Foulger said, the tech giant is going to need additional housing in the neighborhood to support the thousands of employees it will bring. The NoMa submission included 12.9M SF of development potential, also above the 8M SF of office Amazon requested.

The site plan for JBG and Brandywine's Lacebark Alley mixed-use project in NoMa

NoMa BID President Robin-Eve Jasper said all of the sites included in Phase 1 of the submission are zoned for office, allowing them to move forward quickly, but some of the sites in the later phases could be built as residential. 

"That's one of the beauties of the neighborhood is that people can respond to the market," Jasper said. "If it had been exclusively zoned office it might have been a very dull neighborhood. The ability to respond to the growing market for retail, entertainment and residential has been a real blessing in NoMa."

One site included in Phase 1 of the Amazon submission is currently planned for a mix of several components. JBG Smith's Lacebark Alley development plan calls for two office buildings, a multifamily building, a Landmark movie theater and additional retail.

The developer, then The JBG Cos., had discussed breaking ground on the project in 2016, but has since hit the pause button. JBG Smith could not provide a timeline for its Lacebark Alley plans, but said the inclusion of its sites in the Amazon HQ2 submission is not changing the developer's overall focus.

"Being selected as the home for Amazon HQ2 would be great for the DC region — and JBG SMITH would be thrilled for the opportunity to be part of the future headquarters, and all of the opportunities it would bring for the market at-large,"  JBG Smith Chief Development Officer Kai Reynolds said in a statement provided to Bisnow. "However, as exciting as it would be, there are many worthy sites under consideration. Our focus continues to be on advancing the DMV through our current and planned developments."

Murphy and Foulger will speak at Bisnow's Unifying D.C., Maryland and Virginia luncheon on Nov. 15 at the Washington Marriott Marquis, where Amazon HQ2 will be a hot topic of discussion.