With renovation, Seven Corners office buildings try to anticipate post-pandemic workplace

From the outside, the office towers at 6400 and 6402 Arlington Boulevard look much the same as they did half a century ago.

At 13 stories tall, they still loom over Route 50 as it approaches Seven Corners and still boast striking black-and-white facades that draw the attention of passing drivers while revealing little about their occupants.

Inside, however, property owner BoundTrain Real Estate has been busy overhauling both buildings from their lobbies to the top floor that once housed offices for executives of First Virginia Banks, which built 6400 Arlington Boulevard — now dubbed the South Tower — as its headquarters in 1972.

6402 Arlington — the North Tower — came later in 1987, according to Fairfax County property records.

Formerly known as the Falls Church Corporate Center, the buildings have been rebranded as Lookout at 6400 as part of a $11 million renovation project that BoundTrain hopes will revitalize the site for an office market transformed by the rise of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Lookout is a pretty good indicator on front-end demand people coming back to the office because of that value proposition,” BoundTrain Managing Principal Michael Klein told Tysons Reporter. “…Rent is still important. Economics are still important, but most tenants still want amenities.”

BoundTrain bought the 410,197 square-foot office complex for $38.1 million in February 2019 with the goal of modernizing it.

At that time, the towers were over 70% leased, but dated interiors, deferred maintenance, and a lack of amenities had turned them into a “broken asset,” Klein says. Interviews with tenants indicated they had stayed because the location is convenient for commuting.

However, the real estate company saw potential in the buildings, adopting the name Lookout at 6400 in reference to the 360-degree panoramic views they provided of Northern Virginia into D.C.

To take advantage of those views, BoundTrain gutted the former Virginia First Bank executive floor at the top of the South Tower and installed a 3,000 square-foot tenant lounge that retained one of two existing fireplaces but was otherwise entirely redone.

The top floor of 6400 Arlington Boulevard before renovation (courtesy BoundTrain)
The tenant lounge on the renovated top floor of 6400 Arlington Boulevard, from a virtual tour (courtesy BoundTrain)

Other amenities introduced since work on the renovation started in September 2019 include a new roof, conference rooms, a 5,000 square-foot fitness center with a bicycle room, a wellness room, and a revamped ground floor that has a separate lobby and elevator for medical uses.

Lookout’s largest medical tenant is an Inova Cares Clinic for Children that leases 3,000 square feet across two floors of the South Tower. It also has oral surgery, dentistry, psychiatry, and therapy practices, according to Klein.

“It’s great for the property. It’s great for both tenants. That medical elevator and lobby gives us a lot more flexibility operationally,” such as letting those tenants accommodate nighttime and weekend patrons, he said.

While the pandemic led to some delays, Klein says most of the amenities are complete, with the last phase — a 20,000 square-foot plaza with 16 planted birch trees and three firepits — expected to be finished in spring 2022.

The plaza was conceived prior to the pandemic, but Klein believes the “park-like setting” and outdoor gathering spaces it provides will be a key draw for tenants.

The main change that BoundTrain made in response to the pandemic was an increased focus on upgrading the buildings’ heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

Klein says the company spent an additional $50,000 to $100,000 adding hospital-grade air purifiers to the new fitness center. The air handlers now also run until the cleaners finish around 9 p.m., and fresh air is recycled into the buildings every day.

“We made all those permanent in terms of operations,” Klein said. “That’s all been well received by existing tenants and new tenants.”

So far, the renovations have paid off since Lookout at 6400 started offering private leasing tours last fall, according to Klein, who says the complex was leasing about 104,000 square feet in October and hopes to be 90% leased by the end of 2022.

Though many businesses are still figuring out their office plans, the smaller tenants that make up Lookout’s base have started to return, Klein says, adding that some companies moving toward a hybrid model have realized that it doesn’t necessarily mean they need less space.

“Nobody likes coming in, like, every time I come in here three days a week, we’re sitting somewhere different. It’s hard to be productive. Most of us tend to be routine-driven,” he said. “So, many companies are finding, if you still want to give people an office or workstation, but we’re going with this hybrid concept, we need more collaboration space.”

Instead of downsizing, some of Lookout’s tenants have actually added space, according to Klein.

As the building owner, BoundTrain says its renovation has better positioned Lookout for the long-term by adding amenities that remain useful for tenants, even as the way they utilize office space has evolved.

“To any tenant that sees value in amenities, especially conferencing and gathering and collaborative spaces, where they feel like they can take less space and achieve that goal, that’s where buildings have a competitive advantage,” Klein said.

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