The Power of One Million: New Building, Greater Presence

May 1, 2004

NAR’S new Washington, D.C., building gives the nation’s REALTORS® a dramatic Capitol Hill presence: 12 stories, sheathed in blue-green glass, and a tower that extends 40 feet above the official District of Columbia height line.

“It will become a landmark,” says Dale Colby, a broker with eRealty in Covina, Calif., and chair of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ Real Property Operations Committee. “A REALTOR® who saw the building when taking off from Reagan National Airport said it looks like a diamond in the rough.”

Richard Rosenthal, CRE®, owner of The Rosenthal Group in Venice, Calif., and chair of RPOC’s D.C. Subcommittee, says, “The architecture is dramatic and dynamic and stands out from everything around it.”

The building, which will be ready for occupancy by NAR’s Washington staff in the fall, is an acute triangle similar to the Flatiron Building in New York. Its intimate dimensions—it narrows to eight feet at the north end—guarantee an abundance of natural light on every floor.

The design was driven in part by the association’s pursuit of a green building certification through the U.S. Green Building Council (www.usgbc.org), a coalition of building industry leaders committed to using environmentally friendly materials and features. Just over 90 buildings currently are certified.

Among the building’s green features are a high-performance glass curtain wall that reduces energy use by as much as 30 percent, efficient HVAC systems, recycled building materials, a landscaping plan that includes native plant species, and an irrigation system that relies on recycled rainwater.

“We are very, very strong advocates of the environment, and we wanted to create something that reflects that,” says Colby.

The building, which will be finished this fall, has about 93,000 square feet of space and an underground parking garage. NAR will occupy the top four floors and the second floor, or about 40,000 square feet. A highlight of NAR’s space will be a 3,000-square-foot rooftop terrace for social gatherings and congressional receptions.

The rest, including 3,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor, will be leased out to commercial tenants. The goal—already in place at NAR’s headquarters building in Chicago—is to allow the association to live rent-free. The Chicago building has 12 floors, seven of which are leased out to commercial tenants or affiliates.

“At the end of 2005, when leasing is completed on the new building, NAR for the first time in its history will have zero housing costs,” says Dale Stinton, chief financial officer of NAR and RPOC’s staff executive.

So far, one retail tenant has been signed. Visitors to the Chicago building may be aware that the basement houses one of the city’s legendary eateries, the Billy Goat Tavern. The Goat, as it’s known locally, attracts a wide variety of media and political figures and was the inspiration for the famous “Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger” sketch from “Saturday Night Live.” The Billy Goat plans to open its first non-Chicago location in the D.C. REALTOR® building this fall.

“We expect a lot of action from The Hill, especially from the Illinois delegation,” jokes Rosenthal.

Legislators won’t have far to walk. The building is three blocks from Capitol Hill in a gentrifying neighborhood that also includes three hotels and the Georgetown University Law School. Step out of the main entrance on New Jersey Avenue, and the first thing you’ll notice is the Capitol dome looming at the end of the street.

The location was no accident. Proximity to the Congress was a key goal of the RPOC Committee. “It’s a 12-minute walk to the Rayburn Building,” says Rosenthal, “the time it takes to hail a taxi.”

The site also proved advantageous when it came to financing. The cost of the project is about $46 million, $15 million of which came from a fund NAR established in the early 1990s when it sold an earlier D.C. building. The rest is coming from two low-interest bond issues the association qualifies for because the surrounding neighborhood has been designated an enterprise zone. The combined interest rate on the issues is 4.3 percent, about 2 percentage points less than a regular financing arrangement.

According to Stinton, NAR will save about $6 million in financing costs over the 20-year term.

The building’s unique design is the result of a competition that attracted some of the top architectural firms in the country. The winning firm, Graham Gund Architects of Cambridge, Mass., is known for a varied portfolio of buildings that includes a number of projects for the Walt Disney Co.

“We wanted something people would notice,” says Jim Helsel, CCIM, SIOR®, past chair of RPOC and a principal with RSR, REALTORS®,in Lemoyne, Pa. “NAR is the largest trade association in the world. Our goal is to promote real property ownership. What better way to do that than by owning a great building in Washington, D.C.?”

Such a deal!

Do REALTORS® know a good deal when they see one? Apparently so. NAR’s new Washington, D.C., building has been named a finalist in four categories for the Washington Business Journal’s Best Real Estate Deals of 2003. This is the sixth year for the Journal’s Best Real Estate Deal awards. And the NAR building is the first that’s been named a finalist in four categories. The four categories are architecture, financing, sustainable growth/environmental impact, and urban office project. Winners were expected to be announced at an April 29 ceremony.

Robert Sharoff is an architectural writer for The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Magazine. With photographer William Zbaren, he has produced books highlighting the architecture of Detroit and St. Louis. He is a former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.

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