Redbrick's Tom Skinner On The 2.3M SF Plans For Poplar Point
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Redbrick LMD has quietly been buying property in Poplar Point for years, and now that it’s in contention for a potential HQ for the Department of Labor, it's put the pieces in place for a major development to house it.
Last week, Redbrick filed plans with the DC Zoning Commission for a 2.3M SF development next to the Suitland Parkway-295 interchange, across the street from the Anacostia Metro station. Of the five buildings in the project, three are office buildings, a total of 1.6M SF of office space on the short list of options for DoL’s long-term home.
There are a few small commercial buildings on the 6.2 acres of land, two-thirds of which Redbrick acquired from UBS, but it’s largely undeveloped. Its location and accessibility make it appealing, particularly as development sites are getting harder and harder to come by.
“The thesis we have is: DC is running out of land, and this is some of the finest land in the city,” Redbrick managing partner Tom Skinner (above, left, next to Akridge's Adam Gooch) told Bisnow. “You see what happened in the Capitol Riverfront. There’s no reason we can’t create a neighborhood/destination that’s comparable or superior to that.”
The Department of Labor has the potential, just like with the 1.4M SF Department of Transportation HQ in the Capitol Riverfront, to anchor a booming development. Alongside the office component, Redbrick is planning 680 to 700 residential units and 45k SF of retail on the ground floor of four of the five buildings. Redbrick plans to set aside 10% of the residential as affordable—half for those earning up to 50% of area median income, half for those at 80%—including three-bedroom units, as requested by the community.
It’s hard to beat Poplar Point’s transit access—Skinner said it’s got the best access in the city and “a private Metro station, as we like to call it”—and the residential should be offered at somewhat of a discount to the Riverfront and neighborhoods across the river, while still one Green Line stop from Nationals Park and two stops from The Wharf.
“If you look at what’s happened in the other new neighborhoods, be it NoMa, or the Riverfront/Navy Yard, in most cases it’s stimulated by some federal investment initially,” Skinner said. “When we bought this land, part of the vision was, there will be a point where the government’s being priced out of other areas. Whether it ends up being the Department of Labor or another agency, we do expect [the government] to be one of the initial office uses.”
The Riverfront and NoMa are not just potential blueprints for Redbrick’s development—they’re also rivals for its potential office anchor. Redbrick is the first developer with a planned-unit development application on the books, but Douglas Development, which owns the NoMa parcel, and the future JBG Smith, which owns one of the properties along South Capitol Street, are in the running—formidable challengers indeed.
But the office is just one piece of this project. The residential, Skinner said, could begin construction as soon as the PUD goes through the process, as early as 2018 with a 2020 delivery date. Skinner said Redbrick would have to evaluate the development landscape before committing to begin construction; considering the length of this economic cycle, 2018 might be a challenging development environment.
While Poplar Point is the latest big development plan for Redbrick, it’s far from the only one. Skinner and his firm bought the former Coast Guard HQ property on Buzzard Point, which it's developing with Akridge, Western Development Corp, Orr Partners and Jefferson Apartment Group. The project will have floating restaurants, piers and a water taxi stop. Down the road, Skinner said the plan is for a water taxi stop for Poplar Point as well.
“From National Airport, you can be at Buzzard Point by 10 minutes by boat,” Skinner said. “It’s going to be faster to get to the airport by water taxi than by car.”
Extending water taxis from Old Town Alexandria to the airport, with The Wharf in between, it’s clear the activation of the waterfront is light years ahead of where it was just a few years ago. Redbrick is also the master developer at St. Elizabeth’s East, where the medium-density multifamily will complement the Department of Homeland Security, CBP and other agencies going there, not to mention the Washington Wizards’ practice facility and 5,000-seat arena being built by the District.
While Labor is certainly the apple of Redbrick’s eye, the plans are just getting organized to move. They paid cash for the properties and don’t have investors hanging over their heads waiting for an exit.
“We’re not dependent on market cycles,” Skinner said. “We can be patient.”