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Chip Akridge On D.C.'s HQ2 Chances And His Plans For Buzzard Point, Including A Food Hall

Akridge founder Chip Akridge

Since founding Akridge in 1974, Chip Akridge has become one of D.C.'s most prominent developers, with major projects across the region. Akridge has multiple developments planned in the Buzzard Point and Capitol Riverfront neighborhoods, including an office-to-residential conversion, a 7-acre site with 2.4M SF of development planned, and an office project near Nationals Park. Bisnow caught up with the development legend to hear the latest on those projects and his overall thoughts on the neighborhood, including its chances of landing Amazon HQ2

Bisnow: Beginning with River Point, your project that will convert the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters into apartments and retail, are you still planning to begin construction this quarter?

Akridge: That is our plan. We do not have an exact date, but we are hoping to get underway, at least in terms of demolition, this quarter. We have quite a bit of demolition to do, both interior demolition, existing improvements, mechanical systems, etc. We're taking out about 150K SF of floor area to make the building shape more conducive to apartments. 

A rendering of Akridge and Western Development's planned River Point project at Buzzard Point.

Bisnow: It seems like a very interesting project, converting an office building that housed the Coast Guard into apartments. What kind of unique challenges does a project like that present?

Akridge: We’re going to have 470 apartments plus or minus. Any time you retrofit an existing concrete structure, you obviously are constrained by what you can put where because of where the columns are. So it’s a real exercise in ingenuity to try to navigate keeping the columns out of the middle of the rooms and that kind of thing. So the interior layouts are difficult, but we’ve got some creative minds at work, and we’ve done a pretty good job of creating different layouts. 

Bisnow: This project is also planned to include a large retail component, what types of tenants are you looking to sign? 

Akridge: We’re looking at primarily food and beverage. We have a drugstore that’s signed a letter of intent and we also have a fitness outfit that we're in final negotiations with to open a fairly large fitness facility.

Bisnow: What types of food and beverage concepts do you have in mind? I saw reports about a food hall, is that part of the plan?

Akridge: That is part of the plan. We don't have an agreement signed on that, but it is coming along. It looks like we will put a food hall there. 

Akridge's 100 V St. SW development site near Audi Field on Buzzard Point

Bisnow: You also have this site at 100 V St. with a 2.4M SF mixed-use development opportunity, what does your timeline look like for that project?

Akridge: We broke that project down into two phases. Phase 1 is the southern half of the site on which we will build residential rental, residential condo, hotel and probably an office-type use. We’re working on the first building at the southeast corner of the site, which will be First and V, a residential rental building with about 250 units. We are currently working on drawings, and we are hoping to start construction on that in Q1 2019.

Bisnow: Do you know what your plans are for the later phase on the northern half of the site?  

Akridge: We haven’t completely decided on the northern half of the site. In terms of uses, it’s going to be a couple years before we get to that. We want to see how the rest of the neighborhood develops.

Bisnow: Audi Field is opening this summer, and people from around the region will begin coming to Buzzard Point to see DC United games. Do you see this as a key turning point for the neighborhood that will create momentum for all of the development?

Akridge: Absolutely. Soccer is only part of the story. All of the home soccer games will be in that stadium and DC United is basically going to play all their away games this season first, so by time season opens, they’ll have all their games at home. They’re going to have a bunch of games the rest of the summer into September, so it will be very soccer intense. But the ownership group is hiring an events manager for non-game events like concerts and other activities to bring people into the area. And we are planning an interim use for the north half of our 100 V site, which will also provide some leisure activities. It will probably have some food to activate the northern part of the site. It will provide activities for all people to the neighborhood like volleyball, bocce, that kind of thing, and food and beverage. It will be well-utilized and designed to bring people into the neighborhood.

A rendering of Akridge and Brandywine's planned office development at 25 M St. SE

Bisnow: Moving to the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, you have this 25 M St. SE office development planned with Brandywine. What is your timeline for moving forward on that?  

Akridge: We hope to break ground this year; we’re driving to do that. We are working on a lease to kick that project off and are in negotiations with a couple different users to accomplish that.

Bisnow: These sites are all included in D.C.'s Amazon HQ2 proposal. What is your sense of the chance that Amazon picks D.C., and the Anacostia Riverfront proposal in particular?

Akridge: Well, I don’t know; I hate to speculate. I will say that I think D.C. has unique advantages for Amazon. They have some big difficulties as well. One of the difficulties is they’re looking for tremendous amount of space, which is going to be difficult to accommodate within the District on one site. We’ll need multiple sites to house them. It would be smart from Amazon’s point of view not to bunch in one location but spread them out. I could see them coming to the Washington area and having offices in Maryland, Virginia and D.C., all of them. There’s more land opportunities in terms of delivering space over time, which is one of the things that they’re looking at. I think Washington has a real chance.

Bisnow: Is the possibility that Amazon selects D.C. changing the way you plan these developments at all?

Akridge: We’re not making any special plans for HQ2. We’re carrying out our development plan as we would without them. If they come along, they’ll be a participant in whatever we’re doing at the time. But by virtue of what real estate we control, we can’t determine what they do.