Arlington County has its sights set on acquiring a seven-story building at 2020 14th St. North in order to meet its needs for more space and set the stage for the redevelopment of the heart of the Courthouse community.
The acquisition would allow the county to consolidate operations from two other buildings into one and to create a year-round comprehensive service center for Arlington's homeless. It also means many of the building's 23 existing tenants will have to find somewhere else to work.
The county recently received an appraisal of the building at $25.5 million.
The Arlington County Board in December will consider authorizing the purchase of the building, which is at the corner of 14th Street North and North Courthouse Road next to the Arlington County Justice Center.
"If a voluntary purchase is not successful, then the County may acquire the property by eminent domain," according to a county news release. That means a lengthy legal process where the county must prove it has compelling reasons for taking the building for the public good.
Efforts by Patch to reach the building's current owner, Toronto-based BREOF Thomas REO, and a local attorney who represented that company this summer have been unsuccessful.
"The county has been in discussions with them for months," said Diana Sun, Arlington's chief spokeswoman. "We're hopeful. But if we can't reach an agreement, we have the eminent domain option available."
'A lot of questions'
The county hopes to maintain a variety of uses in the 70,000-square-foot building, and wants to keep the ground-level retail businesses already there -- businesses that include Ragtime restaurant, a deli and a dry cleaning service.
The rest of the building's tenants received notice of the county's plans via FedEx Tuesday morning.
"It was a bit of a shock. There wasn't any dates involved, so we're not quite sure what the future holds," said Ryan Bright, a travel manager with FCM Travel Solutions.
"We're just kind of stuck in between. Getting a FedEx randomly saying, 'You're evicted…' It was completely out of the blue, and we haven't had much follow-up to it."
Jeremy Hicks, practice operations manager at Navigant, said, "We're still kind of absorbing the idea and how it's going to impact us."
Navigant, formerly Ignited Discovery, has been in the building since 2004 and is one of the larger tenants, Hicks said. The business has about 33 employees in 2020 14th St. North and helps law firms organize large amounts of data when preparing for litigation.
"There's a lot of questions (about) how it impacts our business," Hicks said. "We really can't have any down time because of the nature of our business. There are law firms around the country that depend on us being operational 24/7."
He added: "Moving to a new building would require a lot of additional effort on our part to keep our clients happy, which is our No. 1 priority."
County Manager Barbara Donnellan stated in a news release that staff and a relocation firm retained by the local government will assist tenants with finding "alternative space."
"We regret any inconvenience to office tenants that our acquisition of 2020 14th Street North may cause," Donnellan stated.
“While we expect that some tenants will be able to remain in the building until their current leases expire, it is expected that other tenants will, unfortunately, have to seek new space elsewhere in the near future."
From the county's perspective, the building at 2020 14th St. North will help address immediate and evolving space needs and allow for the realization of a vibrant, mixed-use Courthouse Plaza that has been envisioned since the early 1980s.
The plan is to turn the large surface parking lot adjacent to the county administration building at 2100 Clarendon Blvd. into an underground parking garage to facilitate the creation of a public plaza, more ground-level retail and more office and residential space.
"It has been the vision for a long time," Sun said. "By doing that, it enables us to start having conversations about redeveloping the whole thing."
It's unclear how many spaces would be in the garage or what the rates would be.
The county would use the acquisition to consolidate functions currently housed in two other buildings -- 2049 15th St. North, which houses an emergency winter shelter, the nonprofit Hispanic Committee of Virginia and the nonprofit Arlington Street People's Assistance Network; and 1400 N. Uhle St., the Court Square West building. Court Square West houses various county emergency management, facilities management, fleet management and IT staff, along with some court-related offices and the county's print shop.
Those two buildings could then be demolished or sold, Sun said. The idea is to give the county flexibility.
"This is all the beginning of a very long process and plan," she said.
The 15th Street shelter is the only county-operated shelter that's considered "low barrier." That means it takes in people who may be intoxicated or otherwise not able to meet requirements to stay in other shelters.
The county would dedicate two floors of the building it hopes to acquire to a comprehensive service center for Arlington's homeless, which would have a separate entrance, stairwell and elevator.
The county will offer multiple public input opportunities as it enters the acquisition process and begins drawing a timeline for the redevelopment of the area.