MetLife JV Acquires Constitution Center

Constitution Center, the largest privately owned office building in Washington, D.C., which recently completed a $250 million renovation, has been acquired by a joint venture between MetLife and an unidentified U.S.-based institutional investor.

Constitution Center, the largest privately owned office building in Washington, D.C., which recently completed a $250 million renovation, has been acquired by a joint venture between MetLife and an unidentified U.S.-based institutional investor.

The fully leased, 10-story, 1.4 million-square-foot office building at 400 7th St. SW takes up an entire block near the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. David Nassif Associates, which built the complex in 1969, reportedly sold it for $744 million, according to the Washington Business Journal. The parties, including Clarion Partners, L.L.C., which advised the institutional investor, did not disclose the price. Eastdil Secured’s Washington, D.C., office represented David Nassif Associates in the transaction.

“We are pleased to acquire an asset of this quality, which is positioned to provide attractive returns over a long-term investment horizon,” said Robert Merck, global head of MetLife Real Estate Investors. “This acquisition is the culmination of an intense effort by our Washington, D.C.-based team and demonstrates our ability to source some of the best core investments in the country.”

MetLife Real Estate Investors is a unit of MetLIfe that oversees a diversified real estate portfolio of more than $60 billion. Clarion Partners has more than $25 billion in assets under management.  The joint venture is part of program that acquires and manages a portfolio of similar, high-profile office buildings in major U.S. cities.

Originally known as the David Nassif Building, it was the former headquarters of the U.S. Department of Transportation. When the DOT moved out in 2007, the owner began a massive renovation. The building, which has a one-acre courtyard, achieved LEED Gold certification with its environmental and sustainable upgrades, including an advanced energy management system. Amenities include a state-of –the-art security system, underground parking garage with 1,400 spaces, a fitness center, auditorium, conference center and cafeteria.

“Constitution Center has unrivaled scale and design efficiency,” said Marc DeLuca, a managing director at Clarion Partners and head of acquisitions in Clarion’s Washington, D.C., office. “Its central location, proximity to public transportation and the availability of nearby shopping, hotels and restaurants make this asset an unsurpassed addition to our client’s portfolio.”

Tenants are still primarily government offices and include The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Located in the southwest part of Capital Hill, the property is two blocks from the National Mall in an office submarket that generally has lower vacancy rates than the rest of D.C. Limited new supply and rising absorption of available space are expected over the next four years along annual rent increases of about 3 percent per year, according to Clarion Partners.

The office market in the Washington, D.C., metro area is down 20 percent from historical norms this year with only 12.6 million square of leasing activity occurring through the third quarter, about two-thirds the typical volume, according to Cassidy Turley’s Survey of Office Space Third Quarter 2012. The vacancy rate was 10.3 percent overall in the third quarter and 7.6 percent in the Southwest submarket where Constitution Center is located.

Concerns about the outcome of the presidential election and potential ramifications of the so-called fiscal cliff lead to a “big pause in the region’s economy,” the Cassidy Turley survey noted.

A report on government leasing by Jones Lang LaSalle paints an even bleaker picture. Lease awards across the U.S. by the Government Services Administration fell 96 percent year to year, according to Jones Lang LaSalle’s Federal Perspective 2013. The report stated that new GSA lease awards dropped from $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2011 to about $45.9 million to date in 2012.  While those numbers are nationwide, many GSA leases are for offices in the Washington, D.C., area.

Joe Brennan, managing director at Jones Lang LaSalle, said he expects 2013 to be a busier year because of pent-up demand 44.6 million square feet of leases set to expire at the end of 2013. More than 20 million square feet will expire in 2014, he added.

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