Construction Starts on $350 Million Bethesda Office, Hotel Tower

Construction Starts on $350 Million Bethesda Office, Hotel Tower

Tenants for Avocet building could include insurance, consulting firms

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Officials break ground on the $350 million Avocet Tower, located at the corner of Wisconsin and Montgomery Avenues in downtown Bethesda

Dan Schere

Interest from prospective tenants for space in a $350 million office tower and hotel being built on the site of a county police station in downtown Bethesda is picking up, according to the developer.

When completed in 2021, the Avocet Tower building will include 370,000 square feet of office space, an AC Hotel by Marriott and underground parking at 7359 Wisconsin Ave., where the former Second District police station stood until it was demolished in February.

The project is a public-private partnership between Montgomery County and Bethesda developer StonebridgeCarras LLC and a formal groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday morning.

Because Avocet Tower is a “speculative” office building, no tenants have been leased yet, said Doug Firstenberg, a principal of StonebridgeCarras. But prospective tenants in the professional services industry such as insurance companies and consulting firms, he said, are beginning to make a play for office space.

“With our delivery out a little over two years, most tenants aren’t out two years ahead of time,” he said. “So we’re beginning to get a lot of interest now.”

Firstenberg said the hotel lobby will be integrated with the office building lobby, and employees in the offices will be able to easily access a ground-floor restaurant. The building will have a 7,500-square foot rooftop terrace that will feature views of the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument.

Firstenberg said he believes the unique design and amenities of the Avocet will attract companies, and Thursday’s formal groundbreaking will help market the building.

“We’ve got a broker’s team that’s been making lots of presentations to other brokerage firms, so everyone’s pretty well aware of the project,” he said.

In a deal with the county, StonebridgeCarras agreed to build a replacement police station at 4823 Rugby Ave. so it could construct the office tower on the site.

County Council member Hans Riemer, who chairs the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, said the Avocet will help to offset the long-held perception that Montgomery County is unfriendly to business, compared to its counterparts in Northern Virginia.

“The fact that we have a super contemporary office building going up… it will hopefully attract high growth companies with the younger, entrepreneurial crowd,” he said.

Riemer said more buildings such as the Avocet are needed to help Montgomery compete with places such as Arlington County, Virginia.

He recalled a conversation with Timothy Hwang, the CEO of FiscalNote, a media and software company that tracks legislation around the world, that took place five years ago, in which the council member was told that the company needed to move from Montgomery County into the District, to be closer to young people.

“We tried really hard to keep them, but there really wasn’t an offer for them, and they ended up moving to Georgetown,” Riemer said.  “I remember talking with the CEO and he said I need to be in a place where my employees want to live and want to be. Bethesda can be that place, but I couldn’t argue with him about locating in a quiet, old school [office] complex.”

Riemer said the progress being made in Bethesda in bringing more jobs to the central business district needs to be replicated in other parts of the county, including White Flint.

Silver Spring, he said, is “strong, but it could be a lot stronger.”

County Executive Marc Elrich was less optimistic about the building’s ability to bolster the county’s business image.

“I don’t know if this by itself does. I mean it’s a good sign that somebody made a [speculative] investment. Spec investments in high vacancy areas are tough. What he [Firstenberg] offers is a trophy building, so it’ll be important to see how quickly it leases up,” Elrich said.

Elrich said the building’s success is dependent on how quickly tenants are leased.

Avocet Tower, he noted, will have to compete with other high rise mixed-use developments that are under construction.

“If it leases quickly, then people will say, ‘hey there’s a market over here and this product has its place over here.’ But it’s not like this is the only crane around here. These are gonna be glitzy, nice buildings too,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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