Wanted: Rich Lawyers

The ten acres of the new CityCenterDC needs a big Washington law firm.

By: Marisa M. Kashino

Rendering of the new CityCenterDC. Illustration courtesy of Hines.

CityCenterDC, the big project under construction on the former site of the District's old convention center, is now little more than a huge hole in the ground. But come 2014, the ten acres will house shops, condos, apartments—and 515,000 square feet of office space. The obvious anchor tenant for that amount of space in the heart of DC would be a big law firm. But so far none have signed on.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom signed a letter of intent to lease 350,000 square feet at CityCenter in spring of 2010 but then backed out. Skadden would have been an ideal tenant because the firm is so prominent: It's one of the largest in Washington, with more than 300 lawyers based here, and also one of the richest—another requirement for any firm interested in moving to CityCenter. Dawn Marcus, communications manager for CityCenter's developer, Hines, says lease prices haven't been determined yet. However, a real-estate source says the office space will cost as much as $85 a square foot per year, so Skadden's annual rent would have been close to $30 million. That price isn't unheard of: Office space at 2200 Pennsylvania Avenue, a building that opened last year, costs in the same range. Two firms, Hunton & Williams and Vinson & Elkins, have moved in.

Now Arnold & Porter, also one of the District's largest and wealthiest law firms, is considering renting at CityCenter when the firm's current lease ends in 2015. Arnold & Porter would be an even bigger "get" than Skadden, as its Washington office houses 470 lawyers.

But if that deal doesn't work out, there aren't many other firms that would fit the bill for CityCenter.

Most of Washington's megafirms are stuck in their current offices until at least 2016, which would be too late to move into the new project. Covington & Burling, Latham & Watkins, and Sidley Austin all have DC leases that expire that year. Hogan Lovells, Steptoe & Johnson, and Patton Boggs are among the large firms with leases expiring in 2017.

One possible upside of moving to CityCenter: The firm's lawyers could live in the project's condos, within feet of their office. Less time commuting means more time billing.

This article appears in the January 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.