DC Leads US in Office-to-Apartment Conversions – Could It Resolve a Post-COVID Funk?

WASHINGTON – It appears working from home is here to stay, and the trend is re-shaping America’s workplaces and cities. 

According to a recent report by Stanford economics Prof. Nick Bloom, before COVID only 5 percent of American workers did their jobs from home. During the pandemic, that number shot up to more than 60 percent. Today, it’s stabilized at about 25 percent.

The report also finds benefits from working at home include happier and more productive workers. Plus, it helps businesses because it saves money on office space.

Cities Struggle to Bounce Back

Meanwhile, major cities nationwide are struggling to bounce back post-COVID. Many people are still working from home which means less vibrant downtowns and a lot of empty office space. In the nation’s capital, only about half of workers are back in the office and that’s driving developers to come up with some creative solutions. 

In an interview with CBN News, Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio with D.C. Planning and Economic Development pointed to the city’s Metro train system to illustrate the city’s post-COVID struggle.    

“We know that daily ridership during the weekday was over 600,000 people before the pandemic,” he said. “And now it’s about 200,000.” 

The emptiness is noticeable, and adding to that feeling are the “For Lease” signs that line the sides of buildings. 

Converting Work Spaces into Living Places

One solution to the desolation is converting these old, unused office buildings into apartments. 

“Mayor Bowser just unveiled our D.C. Comeback Plan which includes adding 15,000 residents to the 25,000 residents who already live in downtown as a way to make downtown more vibrant,” said Falcicchio. 
Foulger-Pratt is one company making that possible. 

“We have two projects in the works that are conversions,” Foulger-Pratt Managing Director Michael Abrams told CBN News. “The first is 1425 New York Avenue N.W. which is about a block from the White House and that’ll be about 275 units in all.” 

The company’s other downtown project is near DuPont Circle and includes 180 units. 

As logical as it all sounds though, turning an office space into something that’s livable comes with many challenges, and finding the right candidates is tough. 

“For an office building to work as residential you have to have certain depths for your units, you have to provide air and light into every unit,” explained Abrams. 

Other developers are getting in on these conversions too. Nearly four million square feet of outdated office space in downtown D.C. is already being converted or is under evaluation. For this, D.C. leads the way among all major U.S. cities. 

No one wants to see the nation’s capital deteriorate to what it was in the 80s and 90s. So there’s a lot of hope these conversions might help keep it from getting to that point and inject some of its old life. 

The two Foulger-Pratt properties will take between 18 and 24 months to compete. Abrams says 1425 New York Avenue N.W. should start this spring. 

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