Correction to This Article
The article said that leasing by the General Services Administration has ground to a halt in recent months. The federal agency is signing leases that do not require congressional approval. Congress has not approved leases for large properties such as the L'Enfant Plaza building in the past fiscal year.

D.C.'s Constitution Center: All Dressed Up With No Suitors

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009

The former U.S. Department of Transportation Building at Seventh Street SW, a 1960s relic like much of the property around L'Enfant Plaza, is weeks away from a $250 million transformation into a blast-resistant glass monolith that's a rarity in these times: a new office building.

Constitution Center, occupying 1.4 million square feet at the D Street entrance to the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station, was financed and under construction before the real estate crash. The largest privately owned office building in the District, it spans a block and glistens 10 stories above the street.

But it has no tenant. Officials with developer David Nassif Associates say they hope to entice a federal agency soon -- preferably one with a need for steel-jacketed underground garage columns that can withstand an explosion, along with six security screening points to gain access to office floors. Leasing by the General Services Administration has ground to a halt in recent months, although Nassif principal Timothy Jaroch said he's hopeful that one of the half-dozen federal agencies that have toured the building will soon be freed up to pursue a lease.

"We certainly think this is an ideal place for the kind of Department of Homeland Security consolidation that was never intended to go to St. Elizabeths," Jaroch said, referring to that agency's plan to relocate thousands of employees on the grounds of the former psychiatric hospital in Anacostia.

But the show must go on. As Constitution Center waits for an occupant, it was officially unveiled to the real estate industry Wednesday night, the first community to step on its imported limestone tiles and marvel at the one-acre park that forms the central courtyard, where a canopy of plants and trees covers the concrete to absorb stormwater, and a massive granite sculpture rises from the ground. The public won't be able to step inside, though, as was possible when the courtyard was a farmer's market; the area is now too secure.

As a string quartet played, guests got a preview of one feature of the building the public will be able to enjoy: a "lightpainting" that radiates color and designs on the walls and ceilings of the Metro entrance with its small pieces of glass set in clusters on the wall.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company