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Courting Co-Working Grads, Landlords Creating Spec Suites Around Common Amenity Spaces

With many startups today growing up in co-working spaces filled with large, shared common areas, owners leasing more traditional office suites are increasingly embracing shared amenities to target companies in their next stage of growth. 

The "Town Hall" amenity space at MRP Realty's Westwood Metro Tower in Tysons

Several office landlords across the D.C. area have recently taken vacant floors and built a group of ready-to-move-in spec suites around large shared amenity spaces, a concept they say is catching on quickly. 

While any new or renovated office building today offers a suite of amenities such as a fitness center, a conference room and a rooftop lounge, brokers, landlords and designers say tenants want access to collaborative, shared space on their own floor just outside the door of their suite, similar to what they would have in a co-working space. 

MRP Realty principal Zach Wade, who also leads D.C.-based co-working provider MakeOffices, said he has taken ideas he learned in the co-working world and adapted them to properties MRP owns and manages, creating several floors of spec suites around common amenity spaces. 

"I saw companies that are currently in co-working, this is where they grow up into," Wade said. "They still get the common elements and amenities that are better than they'd be able to afford to do in a smaller suite, but they only pay their share of it." 

The Harbour Town shared space in Washington Harbour's 3000 K St. NW

He started at Georgetown's Washington Harbour on a vacant, 17K SF floor that he said was less appealing because it did not offer the same water views as much of the complex. Along with its JLL leasing team, MRP unveiled Harbour Town, a shared amenity space with a kitchen, countertops, couches and a shuffleboard table surrounded by a host of office suites. After the concept proved successful and the suites quickly leased up, MRP began rolling out the concept at more properties. 

At the Westwood Metro Tower in Tysons, which MRP acquired in 2016, the landlord took two floors totaling 40K SF and launched what it calls its "Town Hall" strategy. It built out several spec suites between 1K SF and 5K SF centered around a 3,500 SF two-floor amenity zone.

"We're creating a neighborhood within a building," Wade said. "It started out as one large block of space and we said 'how do we break it up?' Rather than doing a typical spec suite and waiting for the market to show up, we said 'let's get proactive and do something the market hasn't seen before.'" 

MRP has since brought the concept to its Liberty Park complex in Herndon, to Twinbrook Center in Rockville and to Bethesda Crossing, Wade said. 

Savills Studley Corporate Managing Director Jon Glass said he has recently seen several landlords across D.C. employing this strategy and views it as part of a larger shift that merges the success of co-working and spec suites. 

"This seems to be an emerging trend that's geared toward co-working grads," Glass said. "It's a more community-driven marketing way for landlords to get new tenants and for people who value flexibility but do not want to be in a fishbowl like WeWork with 900 tenants."

An amenity space Wingate Hughes designed for the spec suites at Market Square's 801 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

In addition to MRP, some of D.C.'s largest office owners have unveiled similar concepts, such as Boston Properties at Metropolitan Square, Carr Properties' WaveOffice concept at Clarendon Square, and Columbia Property Trust at Market Square. 

After landing tenants for all of the spec suites it built around shared amenity spaces at Market Square's 801 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Columbia Property Trust has recently begun putting the concept into 1800 M St. NW, an office building it acquired last year

Columbia Property Trust's Mark Witschorik said the landlord is taking the vacant, 21K SF fifth floor of the building, creating a central amenity space of at least 4K SF and building spec suites between 2,500 SF and 6,500 SF around the common area. 

"We like to think of this as building a center of gravity," Witschorik said. 

To encourage collaboration, he said Columbia Property Trust, along with its leasing teams, aims to curate groups of tenants in the same industry.

"We've done it at Market Square where we've really focused heavily on government affairs," Witschorik said. "We rolled out an amenity program and each of the tenants that ended up taking space know each other and work on policy together. We're able to achieve that by identifying a building thesis that taps into the neighborhood and identifies the end user." 

Wingate Hughes Studio Director Becky Duvall, whose Lightbox Studio designed the Market Square space and is working on 1800 M, said other landlords have recently approached her about doing preliminary designs for similar concepts, a sign the trend is growing in the marketplace. 

"When the landlord suddenly has a big chunk of space become available and there really isn't much of a market for one tenant to take the whole space, it makes it more appealing to small tenants to give them amenity spaces not within the suite but adjacent to the suite," Duvall said.