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Metro Selects Stonebridge, Rockefeller Group To Redevelop Chinatown Headquarters Site

WMATA has picked the team to redevelop its longtime headquarters building in Chinatown as the transit agency plans its move to L'Enfant Plaza.

WMATA's headquarters, the Jackson Graham Building at 600 Fifth St. NW

The agency selected a joint venture of Rockefeller Group and Stonebridge to redevelop the Jackson Graham Building at 600 Fifth St. NW under a long-term ground lease, the team announced Monday. 

The developers plan to keep the existing structure of the eight-story, 381K SF office building intact while undergoing an extensive repositioning plan that will add three floors to the property. It plans to begin construction in 2023, after WMATA moves out of the building. 

Rockefeller Group Mid-Atlantic Head of Development Hilary Allard Goldfarb described the project as a "once-in-a-generation" opportunity because of its prime location near Gallery Place. She said the team evaluated several options and decided a redevelopment that keeps the structure intact made the most sense. 

"The really cool thing about this from an engineering and design and construction standpoint is WMATA's infrastructure on-site," Goldfarb said in an interview Monday. "The repositioning approach became more obvious because we sit on the Red Line tunnel and there's a chiller plant on-site. Our plan allows for WMATA's infrastructure to continue operations without an interruption of service."

The Jackson Graham building has been the transit agency's home since 1974. Its move comes as part of a larger consolidation plan that WMATA says will save it $130M over the next 20 years. It retained JLL in 2017 to plan the consolidation effort. 

The plan includes the departure of several leased office buildings and the construction of a new headquarters in L'Enfant Plaza and new regional offices on Alexandria's Eisenhower Avenue corridor and near the New Carrollton Metro station in Prince George's County.

StonebridgeCarras principal Doug Firstenberg with MRP Realty founding principal Fred Rothmeijer

The Stonebridge and Rockefeller team plans to lease out the redeveloped building to new office tenants. The strategy comes at a time when the D.C. market is experiencing record-high vacancy, but when new and redeveloped trophy office buildings have outperformed older properties. The project will include the addition of ground-floor retail. 

Stonebridge Managing Principal Doug Firstenberg said it anticipates leasing the office building to private sector tenants, and he thinks they will be drawn to the location. 

"What we'll be able to do is truly unique, so when you combine that with all the activity and things that are going on and the success of the buildings around and this unique location with all the vibrancy, it's a really unique opportunity," Firstenberg said. 

WMATA plans to introduce the selection this week to its board of directors, which must approve the plan before it can move forward. Firstenberg said the team is still determining the exact square footage it plans for office and retail uses and the type of D.C. zoning process it will pursue, but he said they aim to keep it as simple as possible.

The Meridian Group's Gary Block and Rockefeller Group's Hilary Allard Goldfarb

Stonebridge last year completed the 2.7M SF Constitution Square mixed-use project in NoMa, over 1M SF of which is leased to the Department of Justice. It is also working on major new projects in Downtown Bethesda and on Eisenhower Avenue. 

Rockefeller Group, the New York real estate company behind Manhattan's Rockefeller Center, entered the D.C. market in 2017 when it partnered with The Meridian Group to develop Boro Tower in Tysons. The company closed another deal in partnership with Meridian last year, to redevelop the office building at 1901 L St. NW. 

This deal represents the first joint venture between Bethesda-based Stonebridge and Rockefeller Group, but Stonebridge has worked with Goldfarb on a Silver Spring project while she was at Bozzuto

"This is a true partnership," Goldfarb said. "We'll have fully integrated teams and co-develop this ... we couldn't be happier or more honored to be pursuing this with Doug and his team."

WMATA Director of Real Estate Nina Albert will discuss the agency's L'Enfant Plaza headquarters project March 11 at Bisnow's Southwest D.C. Surge event.