News of a record-setting sale of an apartment at the Watergate may signal the start of a comeback of the venerable complex.

Though the price — $3.1 million for the three-bedroom co-op in the South building — was a record for the Watergate, it doesn’t come close to the prices commanded by the District’s most expensive building, the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, Georgetown. A unit there can cost upward of $8 million.  

But it does show that the Watergate might not be in the “slow decline” that The Washington Post declared in November after news that Safeway was pulling its store out of the complex.

John C. Lee of Fairfax-based Lee Technologies and his wife, Cynthia, purchased the co-op. The couple’s primary home is in Middleburg, but they had been talking about finding a place in Washington. They enjoy going to restaurants and the theater and have many friends in the area and didn’t want to always have to make the long drive.  

Lee said there were two main reasons they were drawn to the property: its location and the apartment itself and its panoramic views of the Potomac River.

Living room (Homevisit)

The previous owner hired the architectural firm Outerbridge Horsey Associates to reconfigure and redesign the 2½ apartments into one 3,700-square-foot residence. The result includes a spacious living room, a dining room that seats 10, a library and a large kitchen with a family room. All the living spaces have access to a curved balcony garden that wraps around the fourth floor apartment and offers magnificent sunset views.

Kitchen (Homevisit)

Few people know more about the Watergate than Gigi Winston of Winston Real Estate. Her father, Henry Winston, was the original leasing agent for the complex. She has been selling real estate in Washington for the past 26 years and represented the Lees in this sale.

“I think there is more openmindedness about the Watergate now than there maybe was for a few decades,” Gigi Winston said. “I think it’s always been popular as far as a location. People often think, ‘I want the newest place.’ But there’s something about a classic.”

The 10-acre complex has three residential buildings, an office building and a hotel. Attempts to update the property have been mixed. The hotel, which has stood vacant since 2007, was bought by Euro Capital Properties in 2010 after another developer, Monument Realty of D.C., lost the building to foreclosure.

Penzance recently acquired the office building and is planning a major overhaul.

Winston said that in addition to the apartment that sold for $3.1 million, another apartment recently sold for just less than $3 million at the complex. She said an apartment at the Watergate will be coming on the market later this year that could surpass the record-setting amount.

Luxury apartments “are very sought after,” she said. “They don’t come up that often. And when they do come up, they get top dollar.”

Washington, it seems, has a scarcity of high-end apartments for sale.

“I have a couple other buyers that are looking for something like [the Watergate apartment], and we can’t find it for them,” Maguire said.