Bailey's Crossroads Office Building Conversion Shows How Fairfax is Putting Strategies in Action to Combat High Office Vacancy Rate
Dec. 7, 2016
As more office space stands vacant, Fairfax’s leaders are putting new strategies to work to bring new life to these empty buildings.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved the reuse of an existing office building that demonstrates one of the ways that they seek to lower the 18-plus million square feet of vacant office space in Fairfax County. The approval acts on one of the strategies that they endorsed on Oct. 18, 2016, to address filling vacant office spaces.
The board’s action allows for a 1960’s-era office building to be converted into flexible live/work units. The 10-story building at 5600 Columbia Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads has stood vacant for about the past four years.
Developer Novus Residences will transform the building into what it calls e-lofts. The 173,000 square foot building will be turned into 157 flexible live-work units.
“E-Lofts are a terrific loft style apartment in which every unit has the ability at all times to be rented as a place to live, a place to work, or a place to live and work,” said Novus CEO Rob Selden.
This office reuse demonstrates the three general approaches the county is taking to deal with its 16.2 percent office vacancy rate:
- Building Repositioning: Make improvements to a building to retain its current use. These may include upgrading building materials, systems, spaces, and/or providing amenities that enhance the tenant experience.
- Building Repurposing/Reuse: Change an existing’s building’s use, such as from office to residential use, or office to institutional use.
- Emerging Trends: Accomodate and encourage emerging uses, like flexible live-work spaces, co-working spaces, food incubators or maker spaces.
As detailed in more specific recommendations , the county is also moving forward with a change to its Policy Plan of the Comprehensive Plan. The county will craft new policy to provide guidance for building repositioning and repurposing, and identify areas in the county that may be suitable for such changes.
Since 2007, office vacancy rates have remained in the double digits despite strong employment in the county. Officials say the vacancies result from long term market trends that are changing where people choose to work, and are not just a result of the recession and federal sequestration.
Driven by technology and teleworking, companies are reducing the amount of office space leased per employee. The average square feet per employee is expected to shrink. It was 225 square feet in 2010, and is expected to drop to 140 square feet by 2017.
The federal government is following suit with a goal of offering 136 square feet per worker. Its policy has already resulted in a 15 percent reduction in leased office space in the D.C. region.
Employers are also increasingly moving to areas near transit that are walking distance to shops, restaurants and entertainment.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors established a workgroup in fall 2015 to look at solutions to empty offices. The Building Repositioning Workgroup consisted of developers, building owners, nonprofits and county staff. It focused on understanding:
- How the changing office market in the DC region impact existing buildings;
- How the market drives changes in building use over time;
- How buildings can be improved physically to improve value; and
- What policy, process and regulatory changes the county should consider to address the challenges and opportunities raised
The county’s repositioning work directly supports the strategic plan for Economic Success. This plan calls for studying and implementing ways to reuse empty or obsolete commercial space for residential uses; urban schools or other public facilities; art and cultural purposes; live/work/manufacture uses; or start-up companies.
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