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New downtown? The Atlantic Yards office space, in DC context

In honor of yesterday's shortsighted Wall Street Journal article on Atlantic Yards office space, it's worth a look at how big that office space might be. Remember, when it was proposed on 12/10/03, Atlantic Yards was to contain 2.1 million square feet of office space, as "New York City requires... additional office space to create and retain new jobs."

But those four office towers, which led columnist Andrea Peyser to rhapsodize about 10,000 office jobs, have mostly been traded for condos. After two rounds of cuts, the proposed Atlantic Yards office space now would cover 336,000 square feet, with space for 1340 jobs and likely 375 new jobs.

That's hardly the new downtown some have claimed for Atlantic Yards, especially since there's no need, as yet, for all the office space proposed in the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning. Atlantic Yards would consist of an arena, a mixed-use office/condo/hotel tower, plus a residential complex--a latter-day Stuyvesant Town, much more dense but at least with retail in the base of the buildings.

Looking at DC

Consider that the entirety of the Atlantic Yards office space could fit easily in one new mid-rise building (above) in Downtown Washington, DC on 15th Street near K Street. The Columbia Center would include more than 389,000 square feet. (Photos taken in April.)

The Columbia Center, according to its developer, "is a new urban landmark, and a striking presence in the Washington office market. The building's bold, angular geometry and a dramatic glass curtainwall combine to create a defining architectural identity along 15th Street."

Broad vs. tall

As Southeast Real Estate Business reported in August 2006:
Much like South Florida, there is little developable land left in the nation’s capital. Washington, D.C.’s office market also faces the challenge of height restrictions that do not allow developers to build any structure higher than the Capitol Building. Typically, the maximum height is 12 stories tall. “The scarce land in the traditional office areas like the central business district and the East End has forced office development down K Street and into NOMA (North of Massachusetts), Southwest and Southeast,” says Rob Hartley, director of market research for Trammell Crow Company in Washington, D.C.

That means that the typical office building in Washington has a broad footprint with little open space, packing a good amount of square footage despite the height limit. The Atlantic Yards office space would be part of a very large mixed-use tower, perhaps 1 million square feet, but if that office space stood alone as a Frank Gehry building, it almost surely would be taller and narrower than the Columbia Center.

But there are a lot of Columbia Center equivalents in Washington. A new downtown needs a critical mass of such buildings, not merely one.

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