When his company, CoStar Group, bought a building on L Street NW in downtown D.C. in 2010, it decided that rather than lease the ground floor to a deli, coffee shop or bank, it would design the space as a showcase for its work.
From the sidewalk, passersby get an up-close view through the glass of Demma and his colleagues, who work a few feet away, behind a glass wall. He and his co-workers each have a dozen flat-screen monitors hanging above them where they track real estate research and transactions, and they attract plenty of attention. Every day, people on the street take their photographs. Friends knock and wave hello. Some are tourists. Some are regulars. Some are drunk. Some want jobs.
“We see break-ups and relationship splits, people crying on the phone,” Demma said. Because he often gets in before 7 a.m, he sees the late night party crowd winding down, the “red light district” part of his day. There is rarely a dull moment. “At first it was a little distracting, but now I don’t even notice,” Demma said.
CoStar is not alone in deciding to move downstairs and put its workers on the street for everyone to see. Design firms in particular — led by Gensler in D.C. and Streetsense in Bethesda — are opening up their headquarters for display, putting their creative people behind big windows, as though they were chefs rolling pastries or tossing pizza dough, and often inviting in clients, artists, chefs and community groups.
It is separate parts brand promotion, talent attraction and connecting with the communities around them. Few people walking past Demma and his colleagues on the L Street sidewalk between 13th and 14th streets likely understand what CoStar does, but the maps and graphics on the monitors suggest that here is a company that is technologically advanced and cutting edge.
Andrew Florance, CoStar chief executive, said the building wouldn’t convey nearly the same presence if the ground floor had a shop in it or, worse, was vacant. “You can either leave this gap, this ugly gap in the corporate smile on the first floor, or you can use it as a branding opportunity,” he said, adding. “Rather than being a cold, dark box like a lot of Washington office space, it engages and educates the public on what CoStar is doing.”
Showing off ‘cool’ in Bethesda
For the past eight years, the once-bustling food court at Bethesda Metro Center has been vacant. Despite its location on a plaza atop the Metro station and surrounded by office towers, no one had been willing to take over the glass-cased pavilion with the slanted roofs.
Now it is the headquarters for Streetsense, a homegrown Montgomery County firm that restaurants and retailers of all stripes hire to launch new concepts, redesign their spaces or invigorate their brands. When Donald and Ivanka Trump won the right to redevelop the Old Post Office Pavilion into a luxury hotel, they picked Streetsense to lease its retail space.