With Courtyards, Alleys And Large Retail Spaces, Carr Aims To Engage Public At Midtown Center
One of D.C.'s largest developments in recent years, the two-building, $650M Midtown Center, is nearing final completion in the heart of the city's downtown core.
Fannie Mae employees have already begun to move into their new headquarters. The outdoor public plaza opened in recent weeks, with pedestrians stopping to take pictures of the three elevated walkways that appear to multiply in the reflecting glass windows of the two buildings they connect.
Workers are building out the high-ceiling retail spaces that will soon become a Blue Bottle Coffee and a Greek restaurant from Michelin-starred chef Nicholas Stefanelli, with multiple others close to signing deals. Bisnow took an exclusive tour of Carr Properties' newest megaproject, designed by SHoP Architects and WDG Architecture.
The development, replacing the former Washington Post headquarters, kicked off in May 2016 after Carr signed Fannie Mae for 752K SF, the largest private sector lease in D.C. history. The mortgage financier is taking the entire west building and most of the east building, with the fourth and fifth floors still available for additional tenants. It is moving into the building in phases from its former home on Wisconsin Avenue, where another major development is planned upon its departure.
Rarely in D.C., especially in the central business district, does a developer have the opportunity to build an 862K SF project on a site with 90K SF of land area. The developer aimed to make Midtown Center, which sits three blocks from the Farragut North Metro station at 15th and L streets NW, an anchor for the neighborhood.
"We see the site as a catalyst to connect the East End and CBD," said Carr Properties Managing Director of Development Austen Holderness, who compared the development to CityCenterDC. "The submarkets have grown apart and this area needs a catalyst."
In order for Midtown Center to be a catalyst, Holderness said it was critically important to build large, attractive public spaces. The developer sacrificed 50K SF of building density to create a large public courtyard and retail-lined alleys running through the development. The landscaped courtyard, fronting L Street beneath the development's elevated walkways, includes several seating areas and will soon feature a fountain.
The network of alleys connecting the courtyard to the surrounding streets, one of them as wide as 40 feet, was inspired by Pierre L'Enfant's plan for D.C., a grid of walkways with intersecting diagonal avenues. The private street between Midtown Center and Carr's neighboring Columbia Center, connecting 15th and 16th streets, will be a pedestrian-only plaza that Carr plans to program with events such as farmers markets.
"When you have that much land area, there's a responsibility to bring in the public," Holderness said. "We want to pull the public into the building and bring people into the retail."
The development has 44K SF of ground-floor retail, with 80% of that space featuring double-height ceilings. Carr in April signed chef Nicholas Stefanelli, creator of the Michelin-starred Masseria, for 12K SF. It also signed Blue Bottle Coffee for 2K SF. The development has 30K SF of retail available, but Holderness said they are close to signing leases with two other food and beverage users.
Stefanelli will have two spaces connected by an alley. The 10K SF space on the corner of 15th and L, with 30-foot ceiling heights, will be a full-service Greek restaurant concept. With his second space, fronting L Street and the courtyard, Stefanelli will create a second, yet-to-be-announced concept, Holderness said.
Fannie Mae workers will enter through the lobby in the west building, where it occupies every floor, but its guests will come through the east building lobby, which features high ceilings, a long concierge desk and a scaled wall pattern similar to the building's exterior.
The building's remaining office vacancy totals 70K SF on the fourth and fifth floors of the east building. Carr's Dan Dooley and Kaitlyn Rausse are spearheading the office leasing, while Asadoorian Retail Solutions' John Asadoorian is leasing the retail.
The scale of the development allowed Carr to build amenities larger than the typical downtown office building. The fitness center spans 8K SF across several rooms, and includes a large cardio workout area with machines and free weights, a 340 SF golf practice room and two fitness classrooms. It also has locker rooms with showers and towel service. The gym is one level below ground, but will have light coming through the windows facing the parking garage entrance and a roof window opening into the courtyard.
Next to the fitness center, the developer created a 1,300 SF bike storage room with over 100 bike racks, a bike vending machine with necessary parts and accessories, and two bike repair stations. Holderness said they put floor-to-ceiling windows to the bike room facing the parking garage to encourage drivers to make the switch to cycling.
In its space, Fannie Mae decided to create common "town hall" areas around the entrances to each elevated walkway. The large, open spaces have winding staircases connecting the three floors, a variety of seating areas, a snack bar and large screens showing live television and social media updates.
On the 12th floor, Fannie Mae has an expansive cafeteria with a wide variety of food and plenty of seating. The cafeteria has an interior staircase leading up to the sunlit penthouse.
The development was going through the design phase just as a new law was passed in 2014 allowing habitable penthouse spaces, so Carr was able to utilize the rooftop area. The indoor portion of the penthouse features a gaming area with foosball and table tennis, booth seating and an event space.
The indoor penthouse leads out to the landscaped rooftop terrace. Fannie Mae has the west building terrace to itself, while it will share the east building portion with any tenants that sign for the remaining two floors. The terraces are connected by a walkway atop the highest walking bridge and offer views of the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol.