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Conversion Revolution?

Do we sense a big new trend? All those aged office buildings sitting out there in suburbia, not able to compete with new product? Yet demand for multifamily at hottest levels ever?

Why not convert office to apartment? And that's what we're starting to see, including, above, in our own WheatonThis morning, we snapped Lowe Enterprises DC managing director Mark Rivers on top of The George, a brand-new 194-unit apartment complex on Georgia Avenue. Lowe has added seven floors to the property, which was once a drab five-story office building. But after Montgomery County began updating its sector plan several years back, to add more density in spots like Wheaton, the firm saw an opportunity to remake the building and take advantage of folks being priced out of nearby areas like Silver Spring. Being right next to the Wheaton Metro doesn't hurt either, as well as the Westfield Wheaton Mall across the street. Mark tells us Lowe and Kettler, the management company, have signed 45 leases in 45 days.

The conversion trend is being seen in Virginia, too, like in Crystal City, where WeWork and Vornado are hard at work turning an older office into WeLive, a residential twist on WeWork's co-working spaces. And in Pentagon City, LCOR will soon convert a vintage GSA office into a 450-unit, two-tower apartment project. For The George, Lowe and architect Bonstra Haresign incorporated the old building, as you can see here. But the firms wanted to go for a decidedly urban design, akin to "maybe even something you'd see on 14th Street" in DC, Mark says. (So that red symbolizes the bloodshot eyes of a hangover?) Amenity-wise, Lowe decided to put most of the bells and whistles on the top floor, so that residents working out, lounging, or getting some work done can take advantage of views of DC and nearby skylines. 

Here's a shot of the old office property, which some of you may remember as The Computer Building (since it used to house mainframes). Mark says there weren't a ton of challenges turning a vintage office into a 21st century apartment complex, although the building's core had to be moved from the side to the middle of the property. (That sounds like something Pilates can fix.) And Lowe's got experience in conversions locally, having added three floors to the 2021 L St office building in downtown DC as well as the upcoming residential addition to the Washington Hilton. The firm got creative by turning two below-grade office floors into parking.

Here's the top floor's clubhouse, which Mark says was designed for residents who "aren't in the office 10 hours a day." We even ran into one resident grabbing coffee before starting his day as an online professor and owner of a perfume company, duties he performs out of his apartment. 

A look at one of the first-floor units. There's a mix of studios, one bedrooms, and two bedrooms, and Mark tells us there was a goal of including as much natural light as possible.