GWU is looking for development partner for site on Pennsylvania Ave.

George Washington University would make a pretty good real estate company.

Not two years removed from the completion of a $360 million mixed-use project on Pennsylvania Avenue NW in partnership with developer Boston Properties, George Washington is embarking on another mixed-use project next door.

The university recently tapped services firm Cassidy Turley to find a development partner for “75A,” a site on Pennsylvania Avenue between 21st and 22nd streets NW that is presently home to a dated office building and some former town homes with retail, including Mehran kabobs and the Froggy Bottom Pub.

After acquiring the properties, George Washington won approval for an 11-story, 250,000-square-foot office building with 6,637 square feet of ground floor retail.

Alicia Knight, George Washington senior associate vice president for operations, said the building — designed by the architecture firm Gensler — would have a curtain wall with curved fins “that creates the appearance of movement.” It’s the sort of high-end design aimed at luring a law firm, association or think tank, as Cassidy Turley advertises it.

“We think the location of course is fabulous,” Knight said.

If the newest project does anywhere near as well as the last one has, the university would have to consider it a success. Square 54, as it was being developed, became “The Avenue” when it was completed, an 850,000-square-foot project that drew office tenants, including law firms Hunton & Williams and Vinson & Elkins.

The project’s 335 apartments, which Boston Properties executive Raymond A. Ritchey was nervous about building in the midst of the recession, now attract some of the highest rents per square foot in the city. The retail is anchored by a Whole Foods grocery store.

George Washington considers the projects part of the university endowment’s investment portfolio, which Knight said allows the school — already one of the priciest in the nation — to keep tuition costs down.

George Washington still owns the Square 54 land, on a 60-year ground lease to Boston Properties that provides the university with about $9 million in annual rent, enough money, Knight said, to pay for the majority of the school’s science and engineering hall, on which construction began in 2011 and is expected to be complete near the end of 2014.

“There is a connection between these deals and the work that the university does,” Knight said.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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