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Inside The Micro-Unit Transformation Of Dupont Circle's Historic Patterson Mansion

Dupont Circle's historic Patterson Mansion was a hub of DC social life in the 1920s, with the millionaire media moguls who built it hosting extravagant parties to bring together Washington's most powerful figures. Now, nearly a century later, Saul Urban aims to bring the building back to life as micro-unit apartments.

Dupont Circle's historic Pattersion Mansion. SB Urban renovated it and added a connected glass building.

The developer, in partnership with Rooney Properties, has renovated the mansion into 22 small apartment units, with another 70 in a newly built, connected glass building, and has turned the mansion's common areas into amenity spaces. The renovation is nearing completion and the building will welcome its first residents in July. 

With micro-units ranging from roughly 370 SF to 575 SF, the developer does not expect the building, branded as Ampeer Dupont Circle, to be its tenants' primary residence. It has flexible three- to- 12-month lease terms aimed at attracting DC's transient class, such as consultants, lobbyists, diplomats and fellows. Saul Urban sees an untapped market of people coming to DC to work with the government or other organizations for a period of time too short to get a permanent place but too long to get a hotel. 

"This is a new concept, a new asset class," Saul Urban senior vice president Dan Rigaux said. "It's a hybrid of multifamily with hospitality offerings and the offerings of a social club layered in."

A model studio unit in the Ampeer apartments

Short-term renters would not want to deal with the hassle of furnishing an apartment, or dealing with internet and utility providers, so Saul Urban took care of all of that. The rents include the furniture, utilities, cable, internet and regular food and beverage offerings.

The units range from $2,800 per month to more than $5,900 per month, with a premium for the units in the mansion itself. Tenants will pay more if they opt for shorter lease terms. Seven of the building's 92 units are set aside as affordable, all of them in the glass building. 

The units will be move-in ready when the renovation is completed in July, and Saul Urban has already begun leasing. It has gotten interest in many of its units but expects to sign more leases closer to opening due to the transient nature of its target audience.  

The living area in Ampeer's model studio unit

The units within the mansion vary widely in layout due to the building's nature, with small studios, larger one-bedrooms and attic lofts. The units in the connected glass building are much more uniform in size and shape, mostly smaller studios. 

The studio apartments have kitchen, bed and living areas all in one room, but the developer hopes residents will spend more time in the common areas than typical apartment tenants. 

The stairs leading to Ampeer's second-floor amenity space have exposed brick from the original mansion.

The amenity spaces are concentrated on the second floor with high ceilings — 14 feet in the ballroom and 11 feet in the other areas — that make the space well-suited for social events.

Some of the building's original crown molding remains, and the rest was restored to match the existing design. Interior designer Darryl Carter designed the building's amenity spaces. 

A rendering of Ampeer's ballroom amenity space, which is still under construction

From Monday to Friday, a full-time food and beverage manager will provide complimentary breakfast in the morning and hors d'oeuvres in the evening in the mansion's second-floor ballroom, where residents will also have access to a cash bar. 

The second floor also has a library with contrasting black walls and globe-like lighting fixtures. Saul Urban has partnered with the Phillips Collection, American University's Katzen Arts Center and bookstore/café Politics & Prose to program cultural events and speaker series. 

A rendering of Ampeer's library amenity space, which is still under construction

The developer is also in talks with local restaurants, breweries and distilleries to bring in food and drinks for events, some complimentary and some with a flat entrance fee. 

"Providing convenience is part of the equation," Rigaux said. "The more significant piece is that, since residents will be here for a short time, we created a social network to link residents to each other and to the city."

The view of Dupont Circle from the balcony of one of Ampeer's one-bedroom units

One of the building's most sought-after units is a larger one-bedroom in the front of the building, which has a spacious balcony with a flagpole overlooking Dupont Circle.

When the White House underwent renovations in 1927, President Calvin Coolidge stayed in the mansion for three months. During that time, legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh returned from his historic trans-Atlantic flight and stayed with the first family. On multiple occasions Lindbergh spoke to massive crowds gathered in front of the building from this balcony. 

Saul Urban was not the first developer to seek to renovate the mansion, given its history and prime location. In 2013, a New Orleans-based hospitality company was under contract to buy the building for $26M and turn it into a hotel. But the sale fell through after the Historic Preservation Review Board rejected the company's design.

It then looked like it would sell to a high-end condo developer, who ultimately decided to pass and focus on other projects. Then, a secretive Chinese billionaire was under contract to buy the property for a private residence, but pulled out before the sale closed. That is when Saul Urban swooped in.

One of the three loft units in the renovated Ampeer apartments

The developer had already come up with the Ampeer concept and was looking for the right property to launch it when it decided to acquire the Patterson Mansion for $20M in June 2014, with a $14.9M acquisition loan from EagleBank. It later received $31M in financing from Citizens Bank for the redevelopment. Its design passed through the HPRB and was embraced by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission. 

Some of the building's most unique units are the three lofts in the mansion's attic. The units also have larger footprints, with a staircase leading to the sleeping area above the bathroom, looking down at the kitchen and living area. 

A three-level glass walkway connects the historic Patterson Mansion to the Ampeer's new addition

The mansion is connected to the new glass building with a three-level walkway. Architect Hartman-Cox refurbished the mansion's detailed neo-classic terra cotta exterior and designed the new building to pay homage to the mansion with a similar template, but with a contrasting modern touch featuring a clean, glass look without the intricate detail. 

Saul Urban is working on replicating the Ampeer concept in an upcoming project in Shaw and another potential one in the West End. It plans to later bring it to other cities, such as Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

The developer hopes to break ground by the end of 2017 on the Shaw project, Ampeer Blagden Alley. Most of that 122-unit project will be ground-up construction, built around an existing garage structure.