Repositioning: Our approach

Making the most of sustainability with a result that's as good as new

In many ways, Washington, D.C. is a city like no other. Likewise, the D.C. real estate market has its own particularities. While downtown D.C. office space has become increasingly desirable, its supply has topped out as a result of the city’s century-old height limit of 110 feet for non-residential buildings. Available sites are already at maximum capacity. As a result, a market somewhat unique to D.C. has emerged around repositioning older buildings.

The practice of building repositioning is inherently sustainable. Aging D.C. buildings are built predominately on concrete structure and their frames are solid and sound. There’s really no benefit to tearing down and building new on these sites, but there is much to gain from completely gutting building systems and re-skinning these structures. Updating these structures inside and out enables them to achieve higher energy efficiency thereby reducing utility bills in the long term.


815 Connecticut Avenue NW

While repositioning makes particularly good sense in D.C., building renovation is a national issue. 815 Connecticut Ave is among VOA’s most visible repositioning projects. In December of 2011, Presidents Obama and Clinton toured the overhauled 815 Connecticut Ave building to kick off the Better Buildings Initiative which encourages renovation of older buildings to achieve higher standards for sustainability and energy use. VOA’s repositioning project for 815 Connecticut re-skinned the building while it remained fully occupied–a major achievement allowed the owner to continue generating income from the asset while bringing it up to a higher standard.

Building repositioning projects usually represent financially sound decisions. By investing in these properties, elevating B or C class buildings to A class or Trophy class in one of the nation’s most desirable downtowns and adjusting rents accordingly, their owners increase the likelihood that these assets will generate income in the long term. In some cases, it’s possible to create additional leasable space in these structures, which can go a long way toward paying for the renovation itself.

Our process for repositioning involves assessing value and potential in the marketplace. We take a close look at the building, evaluating its existing systems and geometry. We create a list of possible features and options and determine their impact on the asset. In this process, we weigh the cost and benefits of the renovation. For example: Can additional leasable space cover the cost of renovation? We work in close concert with our client to assess market strategy for the building. Eventually, we widen the design team to include brokers, sustainability consultants and contractors. During renovation, we often follow a carefully planned phasing process in collaboration with the contractor to ensure that the project’s impact on income generation is minimized. Often this means doing the central plant renovations in the first phase and scheduling new common areas, amenities and building skin in the second phase.

And in all cases, the quality of the plan and the team (owner, broker, architect, contractor) on board will determine the success of the repositioning. In all our repositioning projects, VOA works from an expectation that outcomes will meet or exceed the standard one would expect from a new building.

Download the complete Design Quarterly Fall 2014.

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