Call it urban renewal 2.0. In the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government leveled much of the Southwest quadrant of D.C. and replaced it with a brutalist utopia. At the center of the new Southwest was the Waterside Mall, blocking what was once 4th Street and straddled by two office towers used by the Environmental Protection Agency. Now Southwest is having a new moment, with gleaming office buildings on 4th Street that count the D.C. government as a tenant, plans for a major new waterfront development called The Wharf, discussion of a redevelopment of the Greenleaf public housing complex erected beginning in 1959—-and now, Sky House.
There are really two Sky Houses, developed in the shells of the two old EPA towers. Sky House West, with 264 units, won’t start leasing until the spring. But Sky House East, with 266 units, is set for a Dec. 2 opening that’s sure to make a splash in the Southwest market with its luxury amenities and hefty rents. And so this morning, I took a tour of the adaptive reuse project.
The lead developer is Urban Atlantic, in partnership with the JBG Companies, which will manage the property once it’s complete. Urban Atlantic President Vicki Davis calls it “one of the more challenging developments anyone could expect to do because it’s an adaptive reuse.” The concrete structure, elevator shafts, and stairwells have been preserved; otherwise, nearly everything is new. But the need to retain certain concrete beams, and to cut out more than 2,000 holes for plumbing and electricity by chisel rather than drill, added a layer of complexity to the project. (The reuse also came with a substantial benefit: The buildings’ heights, at 130 feet, are above the maximum allowed by zoning but grandfathered in because the old structures were preserved.)
Davis promises that the building will feel “very clubby,” and even before it’s complete, it certainly gives off that vibe. Much of the decor in the building, which according to Urban Atlantic’s Alan Lederman will be certified at least LEED Silver, is recycled from aluminum cans and vaguely chrome-y. The lobby, says Davis, will have a “loungy feel.” Amenities will include a 24-hour concierge, a two-level fitness center with a yoga studio, a game room, and work stations for residents.
Each building will have 140 parking spaces, more than twice what’s required under zoning. But the spaces will be shared with workers at the adjacent office buildings, allowing more than one car for every two units without requiring a massive excavation.
The amenities—-and the Metro-adjacent location—-come at a price. Market-rate one-bedrooms, which make up the majority of the units, will rent in the low $2,000s per month, for only around 600 square feet (and bedrooms that get no natural light other than what comes in from the kitchen through a small window along the ceiling). Two-bedrooms, likewise without windows to the outdoors in the bedrooms, will go above $3,000 a month. Studios will start in the $1,600s. Davis says the building is “designed for a target market of professionals of all ages, but mostly between 25 and 40.”
As required by the planned unit development process, 20 percent of the units are set aside for households making under 50 percent of the area median income.
Still, the building has a major perk thanks to its taller-than-currently-allowed stature: the views from the roof. They extend to all the monuments, the National Cathedral, Arlington, and even Tysons. Too bad most of the roof is taken up by dozens of HVAC units.
Urban Atlantic bought the building from Forest City and Vornado, the team that built the adjacent office buildings on 4th Street, in 2011. Davis and Lederman declined to provide the sale price, but city records show a sale to an LLC with Urban Atlantic’s address for $10 million.
Update: Here, courtesy of the development team, is an aerial photo of the Waterside Mall that once dominated the area:
Update 11/27: A PR rep for the project informs me that Sky House’s scheduled 12/2 opening has been pushed back to an indeterminate date.
Sky House photos by Aaron Wiener