NPR Is Moving!

FishbowlDC has learned that NPR is moving 635 Mass Ave, NW to 1111 N Capitol Street. The new location is about six blocks away from its current location and will be right near Union Station. The move will take place in 2012.

The building will eventually will be 2-3 times the current DC HQ’s size.

UPDATE: NPR confirms our scoop. Full memo from Ken Stern after the jump…

    March 5, 2008

    Dear Colleagues:

    I’m delighted to tell you that at Noon today, I will join Mayor Adrian Fenty and other officials at a press conference announcing that NPR has acquired 1111 North Capitol Street NE for our new headquarters, to be completed in 2012.

    This acquisition speaks to many things about our vision for the future, but it also addresses the priorities, concerns and wishes you expressed to us in staff surveys and discussions — opinions we listened to, and worked to accomplish for us all. This will be one building for all staff, nurturing a culture of creativity and collaboration. We will be close by the Red Line (our most-used Metro line), Union Station and other public transportation, convenient for our journalists and our entire staff. We will have space to construct a 60,000 square foot convergent newsroom that finally brings our broadcast and digital activities fully together. And NPR will play an important role in reinvigorating the emerging neighborhood of NoMa.

    As you know, we considered a number of properties, including those in the Southeast/Ballpark area and Silver Spring. We believe 1111 N. Capitol Street ultimately offered us the best location for meeting the needs of the organization. Let me share some details about it.

    This property is located in the new D.C. business improvement district of NoMa (North of Massachusetts Avenue), an area starting extensive redevelopment into a multi-use community. While NoMa is in transition and similar to Penn Quarter at the time NPR moved here in 1992, it will have undergone significant development by the time we relocate in 2012 and be more like Penn Quarter in 1999, or better. At this time, NoMa has 20 million square feet of office, residential, hotel and retail development planned, with over $1 billion in private sector investment to date. The FAQ that follows has details about what is currently being built there, confirmed tenants and amenities.

    The four-story property at 1111 N. Capitol Street was built in 1927 for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company, and was recently added to local and national historical registries. We will keep its façade and a portion of the original structure, and integrate it with a new 10 to 12 story office tower. Our plans for the site include public space for live shows and events, which will help expand the community of public radio, serve as an important destination for Member stations and funders and contribute to the vibrancy of NoMa.

    When we began our search for a new headquarters 19 months ago, we set two goals: to find the best value for the organization and to create an environment where NPR can produce the finest journalism and content for the next two decades. The 1111 N. Capitol property proved to be the most cost-effective option for us — certainly more realistic than upgrading 635 Massachusetts Avenue, a cost which could well exceed $200 million (and still leave us short of space), and superior to any of the 100-plus sites we explored throughout the metropolitan area.

    Early on, however, we recognized that this project was not about bricks and mortar. Instead, it needed to be the physical manifestation of our broader thinking about NPR for the future: what kind of media organization we must be so we can best serve the Member stations and the public. This meant a setting that would offer all of us the most creative, collaborative and interactive atmosphere to do our best work, and one that will attract and retain the best and brightest in the media industry. Also, it required the space and design enabling us to fully merge broadcast and digital activities, minimize operating costs and maintain the most efficient production methods. And, finally, it had to be an environment flexible enough to anticipate the unanticipated — to permit us to nimbly adapt to changes and opportunities, whether in two years or in 20.

    While this move makes the most economic sense, given the high costs of staying at 635 Mass Ave and leasing extra space at commercial rates, it is still an enormous financial undertaking for us. We are fully able to pay for this project through the sale of 635 Mass Ave, existing funds and off our own credit and cash flow. We would be negligent, however, if we did not consider how fundraising might reduce the carrying cost of the new headquarters and we are now at an early stage of exploring a supplemental fundraising effort with this move.

    What follows will offer more information about the property decision-making process, the site and our plans. Also, I am including again the headquarters Vision Paper we had developed, which was approved by the Board of Directors last Fall and distributed to you earlier. It is a reaffirmation of our vision for what NPR will be in the coming decades with your help, and how this new facility will support that.

    We have valued your input over the past 19 months and will continue to bring you into future stages of this project’s progress.


    NPR New Headquarters Station FAQ

    Why did this property work over all the others you considered?

    It made sense on multiple levels. It was the simplest deal of all the finalist properties and the District of Columbia leadership provided additional incentives. We appreciate the work of Mayor Adrian Fenty and his team and their dedication to keeping NPR in D.C. Additionally, this site fulfills many of the priorities stated by our staff, including proximity to the most-used public transportation, the ability to keep all staff together in one facility and the opportunity to have NPR play a role in an emerging community.

    Where is this property?

    It is within the newly formed D.C. business improvement district called North of Massachusetts Avenue, or NoMa. Our property is considered a critical part of the major renovation that will take place in the vicinity of North Capitol and L Streets NE. It is six blocks from Union Station and less than a mile to the Capitol (and seven blocks from 635 Mass Ave). The entire NoMa district is slated for redevelopment into a multi-use office, residential and retail community designed to visually reflect its industrial history, and NPR will serve as an anchor in this effort. Here are some details about NoMa:

    There is 20 million square feet of Class A office, residential, hotel and retail development planned, with over $1 billion in private sector investment to date

    The Department of Justice has just signed a lease to move there in 2010, and the ATF relocated there in 2007. The Department of Justice deal is very important in that it guarantees the addition of significant amenities in close proximity to our site

    The Business Improvement District requires that all new buildings have ground-floor retail space

    Harris Teeter is about to sign a lease for a 50,000 square foot property three blocks from the NPR site. Already existing is street of new retail shops including a coffee house and deli.

    There are two hotels confirmed (Courtyard by Marriott, which just broke ground, and a Hilton Garden Inn) and two more planned.

    In December, the city signed developers to replace the area’s Sursum Corda housing cooperative and replace it with Northwest One, a $700 million high-density property that will house a mix of low-, middle- and upper-income residents. The city has start moving current residents to other properties and will tear down the first building in September.

    Why does NPR need to move?

    Our current situation has been an increasing waste of money and resources for years. We acquired 635 Mass Ave in 1992 and outgrew it in six years, forcing us to pay increasing rent on considerable office space in two nearby buildings due to staff growth. The property is in rapid decline, requiring enormous, often unanticipated, maintenance and repair costs. To simply bring it up to current reasonable operational standards would take $30 million, excluding technical upgrades and space for remote staff; to create a single usable space would take more than $200 million and require several relocations of staff, duplicate costs and potential disruption of service to stations (and the resulting building would still be too small for our longterm needs). The best financial option for NPR was to sell the property at 635 Mass Ave, which is now located in one of the most attractive commercial sections within D.C., acquire land in an emerging area within the Beltway and build a facility sufficient for our needs for the next 20 years. This move will also allow us to meet the expanding demands on NPR, add new technologies, reinvigorate our production processes and invest the maximum amount of resources where they should be: in creating the best content.

    Was it imperative to remain in DC?

    As a news organization that provides significant coverage of national news, remaining in the District was certainly desirable and the importance of this was voiced by many of you. But the overriding factors in our decision-making were whether a site would provide the best value to the organization and whether it would enable us to create the physical setting that could be integrated with our longterm vision. We considered more than 100 sites in 35 locations throughout D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Virginia offered no properties that met our selection criteria and economics. Silver Spring remained a strong contender throughout this process and Montgomery County, MD officials worked hard to provide us with incentives. A Silver Spring headquarters, however, would have forced us to create a satellite bureau in Washington for a number of our News staff. The duplicate costs and systems required by such an arrangement, as well as everyone’s interest in keeping all NPR staff together, ultimately affected our decision.

    What happens to 635 Mass Ave?

    The building is being offered for sale in a few weeks. As part of the sale, we will lease it back until the move. Our leases with the adjacent office space currently being used are timed to expire with the move.

    Will the new building be green?

    Absolutely. At a minimum, we will achieve an LEED certification at Silver level and we hope to achieve higher than that. This will be one of the priorities set for the design team.

    Will NPR rebuild within the existing structure or construct from the ground up?

    The building we acquired is listed on the historical registry of both the District and the U.S. government and any purchase of the property included requirements to preserve certain existing elements. (This restriction also limited the property’s appeal to other buyers and helped toward making it competitive for us.) We will be retaining the historic facade and parts of the original four-story structure and will build an attached tower.

    What is the timetable for the move?

    Barring any hold-ups, this process will take about three and a half years. Our next steps include developing the general design of the building and hiring a development manager and an architect who can translate that vision in a cost-effective way.


    National Public Radio, Inc.
    Board of Directors
    635 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
    Washington, DC 20001


    From: Ken Stern

    Date: November 16, 2007

    Re: Vision Paper

    When we started thinking about the new building some years ago, the economics of the various scenarios drove our analysis in order to assure the Board that a move would be financially beneficial to NPR and the public radio system. These questions — was it more cost efficient to stay, was it more cost efficient to go, what was the risk factors associated with various scenarios — were the key questions that drove our analysis of whether a new headquarters was warranted and appropriate for NPR.

    Economics of course remain an important part of the analysis — indeed it is the baseline for our thinking. But as our planning for the building has developed, our concept has grown from what I would call a facilities plan into a concept that is closely integrated into our broader thinking for the future. As we plan for the NPR of the future, one that effectively serves audiences and stations across multiple platforms, we need to plan for a headquarters that enables and supports that vision: a work environment that captures the creative potential of our work force, that fosters open and frequent communication, that breaks down the artificial walls between different production units and different distribution platforms, that takes advantage of newer and more efficient technology and one that recognizes that flexibility in a rapidly changing environment is a key ingredient of success. As NPR evolves from a company which produces great radio programs to a company that produces great news and cultural content offered on the radio, online and on mobile platforms, the new headquarters can be a key instrument to make that happen. Here are a few things that we see coming out of this process:

  • Breaking down walls, opening up communications – the future NPR will require editorial staff to be working across multiple shows, multiple platforms and multiple media. Training, better communications and production tools and transparency of information will support this effort, but collaboration and operational effectiveness is also a product of the physical environment. Instead of the balkanized and isolated pockets that now characterize our work environment, we envision an open environment which better integrates staff, has better sight lines and fosters frequent conversations and collaboration between staff.

  • Unlocking creativity — NPR’s competitive advantage is the creative product of our workforce. Our current work environment fosters isolation and individual effort. The new space must take advantage of tools that enable collaboration and communication and create opportunities for human engagement: attractive meeting space, venues for casual encounters and brief huddles and lots of opportunities for serendipity and unexpected exchanges of ideas and information.

  • Flexibility and efficiency of operations — Our current building emphasizes technology that is inefficient from both a production and cost perspective. We have taken advantages of new production paradigms only by awkwardly shoe-horning them into the current box. The new headquarters will fully embrace desktop and self-help technologies that will be key to our future operations. But we recognize that we cannot predict technology advancements five years into the future, let alone 20 years into the future. We cannot end up like we are today, shoe-horning modern tools into an old box. So key to the design will be flexibility, the ability to move and change technologies and physical settings. This will ensure competitiveness for NPR and the relevance of our headquarters well into the future.

  • A recruiting tool — The creative workspace must be satisfying for the current staff, but it also must be alluring to prospective employees. We have benefited from the recent over-supply of journalists and we have been able to competitively attract a quality workforce in this area. As we rebalance the organization and increase our demand for employees with different skill sets, however, our competitive advantage diminishes. Web designers, information technology specialists, sales staff, political and public relations specialists and development staff are all increasingly in demand, and as an organization, we find ourselves in some competitive disadvantages in the recruitment of top quality professionals. It is doubtful that we will be able to compete for these employees based on economics, and I envision a well-located, appealing work environment as a cost-efficient recruiting tool. To that end, we need to create a positive and productive work environment. Work stations and offices will be arranged to maximize natural light for all. We will plan for places to escape for a couple of moments, to grab a drink or a snack, to interact with friends and colleagues, to work up a sweat and take a shower — all will enhance the personal bond between the employee and his or her team as well as NPR.

  • NPR-ness. The new space should also speak to our values as a public service organization. As the headquarters of a non-profit, it should reflect values of economy and effective stewardship of resources. As the headquarters of a membership organization, it should reflect our partnership with member stations and be welcoming to their listeners and stakeholders in ways that continue to fulfill NPR’s connection to the community. It will also be a “Green” building; being environmentally sensitive is consistent with NPR’s culture, and will save money through energy conservation measures.

    We will of course want this project to be attractive to all of our stakeholders. We believe that success in that area will be driven not by making it a marbled showplace, but by making it an integral part of our larger vision of making NPR and public radio more competitive, more effective and of greater public impact in this rapidly changing media environment.

    ~ Ken Stern