The 2.7M SF Project That Kicked Off NoMa's Development Wave Is Finally Complete
The Department of Justice will begin moving in May 20 to Four Constitution Square, a new, 500K SF office building next to the southern entrance of the NoMa Metro station. The DOJ signed its first lease at Two Constitution Square in 2008, and when it finishes moving into the final building it will have about 4,800 employees across 1.4M SF of office space in the complex.
In the intervening decade, Stonebridge has built two other office buildings, a 643-unit apartment building with a 55K SF supermarket and a 204-room hotel at the complex. The neighborhood has begun to rise around it over the past several years with thousands of new apartment units and new offices and retail, but when Stonebridge first bought the site in February 2006, NoMa looked entirely different.
The 7-acre site, which spans a full city block at First and M streets NE, consisted of vacant land and some surface parking. The NoMa Metro station opened in 2004 as the system's first new infill station, offering a promising opportunity for development, but only two commercial buildings existed in the neighborhood that is now lined with high-rises.
"At the time it was raw land, you had no idea what it was going to be," Stonebridge Managing Principal Doug Firstenberg said. "When we told people we were going to do 100K SF of retail, they thought we were crazy."
The DOJ in 2008 signed a 575K SF lease for Two Constitution Square, which delivered in 2010 as part of the project's first phase. That 2010 delivery also included the One Constitution Square office building, the 204-room Hilton Garden Inn, the 440-unit first phase of the Flats 130 apartments and the 55K SF Harris Teeter grocery store.
"The real difference was when we went mixed-use and got Harris Teeter," Firstenberg said. "That made the neighborhood. When you have a grocery store, it changes the dynamic."
NoMa BID President Robin-Eve Jasper said the Harris Teeter was a critical amenity for the neighborhood, which did not have a grocery store until it opened. She said some developers are hesitant to build major mixed-use projects with retail in emerging markets because the existing demand may not support it, but she praised Firstenberg for having a long-term vision.
"The very significant committment to ground-floor retail at a time when there was very little in the neighborhood was remarkable," Jasper said. "What Doug did was he looked around and there was nothing there and he made that amazing committment to set the standard for the neighborhood that would include lots of retail."
In addition to the grocery store, Constitution Square's retail includes Dunkin', Constitution Café, SeoulSpice, Moe's Southwest Grill, TD Bank, Peet's Coffee, fast-casual spot Roti Mediterranean, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, restaurant Lily and the Cactus inside the hotel and new sandwich shop Carving Room, set to open next week.
In 2014, the second phase of Flats 130 delivered, completing the apartment building that has led the way in NoMa's multifamily development boom. The NoMa neighborhood now has 5,896 multifamily units, including five buildings that delivered in 2018, another 858 units under construction and over 8,000 more in the pipeline, according to the NoMa BID's latest development map.
"[Flats 130] was a demonstration of the fact that if you build a quality project at the terrific kind of location that NoMa has, people would come in droves," Jasper said.
In 2015, the DOJ signed on for another 839K SF at Constitution Square, including the third office building that had just delivered, and the fourth, which would be newly constructed.
"What was significant is that the DOJ put over 500K SF initially there and then however many years later, they decided not just to keep that footprint but to increase it by 300%," Jasper said. "If it isn't a great place to be, you don't add another nearly 1M SF."
Stonebridge has now sold every building in the complex except for One Constitution Square. It sold Two Constitution Square to Northwestern Mutual for $305M in 2010, Flats 130 to TIAA-CREF for $295M in 2014, the Hilton Garden Inn to Magna Hospitality Group for $42M in 2014, and Three and Four Constitution Square to MetLife and Norges Bank for $422M in 2016.
Stonebridge stayed on to manage the development of Four Constitution Square, and it continues to manage all of the commercial space in the complex, while Bozzuto manages the apartments.
While it occupies nearly 1.5M SF throughout the complex, not every Department of Justice office is created equal.
The Four Constitution Square building alone includes four separate DOJ groups that sought to have different styles of workspaces, ranging from trendy open floor plans to the traditional office styles one would typically associate with the nation's top law enforcement agency.
On one end of the spectrum is the DOJ's Civil Rights Division. Its office space features coworking-style components such as a large kitchen area for socializing, a flexible floor plan with a large open area for desks, small huddle rooms for team meetings and phone booths for those needing a quiet space to make a call.
On the other end of the spectrum is the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General. Its office space needed the highest level of security, including a window at the entrance with a security guard and long corridors of private offices that must be locked when the employee is not present.
It even features a closed room with an official sign outside labeling it "The Destroyer," that has shredders for not just paper, but for cellphones and laptops. The OIG office has some conference rooms, but no open, collaborative spaces.
The two other DOJ groups in the building, the Environmental and Natural Resources Division and the Tax Division, fall in between the two extremes with some open space and some private offices.
"They're all DOJ, but each group has their own culture and requirements," Firstenberg said.
The building includes two mock courtrooms, as many of the DOJ employees occupying it are litigators. It also has a DOJ library, with half of the room accessible to all employees and the other half a more secure, archived area only accessible to the librarians.
A connecting walkway allows DOJ employees to travel between Three and Four Constitution Square buildings without going outside. After finishing the third office building, Stonebridge principal Kevin Cosimano said the fourth was an easier task.
"We got a lot of lessons from the previous building; this one was smoother," Cosimano said. "You start to get into what really works. Three went well, but this went better."