A Fannie Mae office building near the University of the District of Columbia could become student housing, with talks underway now between university officials and the building’s new owner.
Fannie Mae sold its 4250 Connecticut Ave. NW building for $24.8 million last year, but plans to maintain offices there until it consolidates into a new downtown headquarters in late 2018. The sprawling Van Ness building has a horseshoe shape that’s well-suited for conversion into a two-winged apartment house, according to Fred Underwood, a senior vice president at Bernstein Management, the property’s new owner.
Given the building’s location just across Veazey Terrace from the university campus, UDC officials quickly expressed interest, according to chief operating officer Troy Stovall. The school has planned student housing for years and won Zoning Commission approval to construct dorms on its campus, but Stovall said the possibility of an empty apartment building next door is an appealing option. “This opportunity was presented to us, and we want to at least see how it goes,” he said.
With Fannie Mae still occupying the building, and the need for extensive renovations after it departs, details are scarce about the future of 4250 Connecticut. Stovall and Underwood both described the negotiations so far as “preliminary,” and said that there’s been no determination yet as to the possible number of residential units.
Underwood said the leading prospect so far for the property is apartments that Bernstein would bulk-lease to the university, possibly along with additional units that would be rented to the school’s faculty and staff or to the general public. He added the building could still become an apartment house regardless of a deal with the university, but that another option could be to renovate it for new office tenants. Either way, Underwood said, Bernstein will revitalize the ground-floor retail space, much of which currently sits vacant just steps from the Van Ness Metro station.
“Foremost, what we’re focused on is just creating a great project [that’s] competitive in the market and a good fit with the long-term vision of the community for that neighborhood,” he said. “We’re in discussions with UDC — things are progressing, there are a lot of obstacles and hurdles to get through, but we hope to get there with them, and we hope to deliver a great project.”
Stovall said the university has identified a need for housing as part of its master planning process, and that existing leases of a few dozen units in two nearby apartment buildings are a poor fit for all parties: the school, the students and their neighbors.
“If you look at any university in terms of how they have to do competitive recruiting as well as retaining students, having housing is an important part of that experience,” Stovall said. “It’s important that we have a better relationship with them through housing that we better control.”
Both Stovall and Underwood rejected any use of the word “dorm” to describe their plans.
“Historically the word ‘dorms’ has the connotation of small units with the bathrooms down the hall,” said Stovall. “That’s not what we’re building — we’re building student apartments.”
Underwood added that his firm would consider some design elements that the university requests for its students, primarily regarding amenity space rather than the design of the apartment units.
Stovall said the university has been in talks with Bernstein even before the firm purchased the 4250 Connecticut building in November. Even so, the parties said their negotiations are in an early phase, and both are prepared for the possibility of taking other routes. “Right now we’re progressing with UDC,” said Underwood. “That’s the path we’re on, and if that changes we will consider other uses.”
Advisory neighborhood commissioner David Dickinson — whose single-member district includes the university campus and 4250 Connecticut — said he’s optimistic about the project. “It’s an exciting opportunity, and I think it can be done well,” he said.
The concept of student housing at 4250 Connecticut Ave. NW is one of the agenda items for the university’s quarterly Community-Campus Task Force meeting. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. April 12 in Room A-03 of the campus’s Building 44, located on Van Ness Street NW across from International Drive.