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From Isolated To People-Oriented: How Adaptive Reuse Brought New Life To 2 High-Profile Buildings

Ballston Exchange

Widely viewed as a more sustainable alternative to new construction, adaptive reuse projects are booming across the country. In fact, by some estimates, adaptive reuse will account for 90% of building development projects this decade.

The approach has breathed new life into countless buildings and their communities, including a pair of office buildings in Arlington, Virginia, totaling 780K SF that had lost their only tenant. That major vacancy could have been a serious blow to the viability of the buildings, which might have faced a prolonged period of extensive vacancies or even a date with the wrecking ball.

But, thanks to their solid construction and potential for redevelopment, that was not the fate of the 12-story office buildings at 4121 and 4201 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington. They had served as the headquarters of the National Science Foundation until 2017, when the organization moved to another suburb of Washington, D.C. 

Jamestown, a global real estate investment and management firm with headquarters in Atlanta and Cologne, Germany, acquired the buildings after determining they were strong candidates to begin a new life as a mixed-use campus. It rebranded them as Ballston Exchange

“The buildings had phenomenal bones and a trophy building-like construction that, in many ways, were as good or better than many of today’s new buildings,” said Mark Witschorik, Jamestown's director of asset management and digital asset strategy. “The goal of our repositioning was to reimagine Ballston Exchange as a vibrant, mixed-use campus that seamlessly blends work and play together and ties into the surrounding community.”

One of the first orders of business for Jamestown was to reconfigure the 780K SF buildings to be better neighbors in their busy downtown Arlington location. For decades, they had served as the high-profile home for a government agency dedicated to advancing science to benefit the public. 

However, despite their important tenant, the buildings built in the 1990s had a reputation within the community for being a little intimidating, with some describing them as "fortress-like." Also, because they had spent their entire lifetime dominated by a single tenant, they didn't directly interact with the community by offering services or amenities that would appeal to professionals from neighboring buildings. 

“We saw that a larger mix of retail would really enrich the buildings’ new workforce,” Witschorik said. “And there's a very talented pool of smart and educated people in and around the community who could benefit, too.”

Ballston Exchange today includes 51K SF of fully leased retail space.

The Paseo at Ballston Exchange

In addition to offering tenants and neighbors places to shop, dine or work out, the ground floor and shared plaza of the buildings were reworked to interact more seamlessly with the neighborhood.

“We've programmed the first floor to tie into the streetscape and to be open, welcoming and accessible to the Arlington community,” Witschorik said. “We've created new public spaces, like the Paseo, which is the approximately 4,200 SF outdoor area between Ballston One and Two. It features dining and hosts free events for the community. We've done yoga classes there, movie nights and seasonal events including in the winter.”

Witschorik said the reimagined mixed-use campus has proven popular with both tenants and neighbors. That is an outcome Jamestown has seen at its other multi-use developments, he added.

“Where and how developers choose to build has a big impact on neighborhoods, and we really pride ourselves on collaborating and participating with the community in planning and decision-making,” Witschorik said. “This process builds trust, but it also addresses the community’s broader needs.”

To accommodate the new building tenants — which include engineering firm Centra Technology, shared workplace company Industrious and business consultant Booz Allen Hamilton — Ballston Exchange renovated the interiors and added proptech tools that allow tenants to book meeting rooms and perform other tasks remotely. It added amenities in line with its status as a transit-oriented development, including storage for approximately 90 bicycles and improved access to Ballston's Metro station.

The fitness center at Ballston Exchange

Another new amenity for tenants is a full-service fitness center with locker rooms and showers. The buildings also feature shared meeting rooms, conference facilities and open work areas.

“We started doing this project long before Covid-19, but the pandemic has accelerated our implementation of proptech and security features,” Witschorik said. “We're also investing in continuing to create a more connected workplace experience that integrates digital and physical space to optimize collaboration and community.”

Witschorik noted that the commercial real estate community has always adapted to meet new challenges, and that has continued to be the case during the pandemic.

“I think it's fair to say that the office has changed,” he said. “However, we've long embraced open-air, accessible spaces, and as we continue to navigate through this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, we're helping foster that experience at Ballston Exchange.”

The development, which is pursuing LEED Core and Shell and Fitwel certifications, also represents another long-term priority for Jamestown, which views building reuse as a more sustainable alternative to new construction.

“We really pride ourselves on adaptive reuse,” Witschorik said. “Over the past nearly four decades, we have been very successful in recognizing great structures in great communities, and really celebrating their strengths and working with the surrounding community to build these unique places.”

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Jamestown. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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