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Sweden’s U.S. headquarters, an arctic-looking building on the Georgetown waterfront, is unique among D.C. embassies: It hosts events, holds not one but two countries (Iceland shacked up with its larger neighbor), and welcomes the public into its exhibitions of modernist art. Its mission states: “As a physical representation of Swedish values such as openness, transparency and democracy, House of Sweden is the flagship of Swedish public diplomacy in the United States.”
The only problem? Since the flagship was built four years ago, it hasn’t been able to lease about 28,000 square feet on its fourth and fifth floors. The Swedes had planned on renting fourteen apartments to executives of Nordic companies, figuring that their countrymen would relish the opportunity to live in close proximity to two embassies. Four years later, no dice: The units have lain empty. Yesterday, the country came to the Board of Zoning Adjustment asking for permission to use them as office space instead, with the idea that Nordic companies might at least want to do business there.
“Due to the changing nature of business, Swedish and Nordic companies have concluded that they do not need a representative residing on the premises,” said the National Property Board of Sweden‘s Lars Brandburg, in a lilting accent. (Imagine, that would be like the European head of General Electric living in the U.S.’ embassy in Paris). What’s more, he couldn’t very well rent the apartments to members of the general public, since D.C.’s tenant protections would prevent any screening for the type of people you would want to be coming in and out of a building that also houses sensitive governmental information.
The Kingdom brought a high-powered team from Holland and Knight, but didn’t need it: The BZA signed off on its request no problem.