What the Post Sale Means for Development
There are two answers to this question that immediately come to mind: 1. Not much. 2. We don't know yet. For these reasons, I've been reluctant to weigh in on the news of Jeff Bezos' purchase of the Washington Post. But it's big enough news for the city—and, yes, potentially for its real estate—that I feel compelled to share a few thoughts. So here goes.
The sale might not have a drastic effect on the Post's plan to move from its 15th Street NW headquarters, but it'll probably have some sort of effect, mostly because the newspaper and its building are no longer owned by the same company. The paper, owned by Bezos, might have numbered days at the building, owned by the soon-to-be-renamed Washington Post Co. The terms of the sale allow the paper to lease its current space for two years, plus two six-month extensions. The paper was looking for a new home starting sometime between 2015 and 2017, so that doesn't represent much of a change—but it could motivate the paper to stick to its schedule.
And the mechanics of the move could change, too. Whereas there was previously talk of a swap with a developer for a new office, that option is no longer really on the table, since the paper has nothing to swap. (Of course, the Washington Post Co. will need a home, too.) Likewise, it was possible that a developer would assist the paper in its move as part of a property sale—again, that now appears unlikely.
Finally, the destination could change. Prior to the news of the paper's sale today, Jonathan O'Connell reported on six potential new homes for the Post. All six are in the District. An owner on the other side of the country might feel less compelled to keep the paper in D.C. proper—though the Post already experimented with a digital operation in Virginia. Or Bezos might be attracted to edgier, techier sites—say, the St. Elizabeths East Campus, where Microsoft is considering opening an "innovation center." There are plenty of reasons to think Bezos will seek to integrate the paper into his broader web/tech operation, in which case proximity to other tech firms may be more attractive than the traditionally valued proximity to the White House and Capitol.
The other issue, of course, is where the paper's coverage will go. The Post's newish Executive Editor Marty Baron has indicated that he wants to focus more on local coverage. Bezos, from his perch in the other Washington, might feel no such desire. (Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans today lamented that he had to "see another local institution pass out of local hands.") If Bezos' goal is to maximize Web clicks, generate revenue, and compete with the likes of the New York Times for national readers, he has little incentive to invest in coverage of JBG and Doug Jemal. That's bad news for D.C. readers who have increasingly few sources of good local reporting—but it could be good news for developers who don't want such an intense spotlight shined on their every transaction.
Again, the real ramifications of the Post sale will be felt mainly in the city's journalism, and to a lesser extent in its business and tech worlds. But there will be effects on its real estate as well, however indirect. We'll soon have a better sense of what those will be.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery