In late 2019, Arlington’s rate of vacant office space was at a six-year low, 15.5%, and poised to continue dropping.
But the pandemic reversed that trend, and today, the vacancy rate hovers around 20%.
While companies continue to weigh going in-person, county staff are working to bring down the vacancy rate. That’s a crucial task for Arlington County, as it derives its commercial property taxes from full — not vacant — office buildings.
“We know nonprofits and associations have been hit hard and that’s a big part of our office market, so that’s troubling. When it comes to tech, government contracting and professional services, there’s a lot of differences among tenants you talk to in terms of their culture: if they are back, how they feel about having people back, how many days a week they’re back,” says Marian Marquez, the director of business investment for Arlington Economic Development. “Until we get past the health crisis, it’s going to be hard to see through a lot of that.”
One new variable is 600,000 square feet of space on the sublease market, which is double the pre-pandemic level and accounts for 7% of total vacancies, she says. In addition, some federal tenants long on their way out finally had their offices go to market.
The office vacancy problem is an entrenched one and not unique to Arlington, says Marc McCauley, AED’s director of real estate.
“For the past decade… the question of ‘Do we have too much office space in the U.S.? has been the major issue,” he said. “That’s not just an Arlington issue, or a Washington, D.C. issue. Even before pandemic, tenants were using space differently, space per employee was plummeting, and almost cut in half.”
From 2016 to 2019, AED worked to drop the 21% vacancy rate by convincing high-growth companies that Arlington “wasn’t a government town,” Marquez said. Now, AED staff and county planners are working to update zoning codes and allow for a wider variety of office tenants, while making zoning processes less onerous for owners seeking to renovate their aging offices. In addition, AED is encouraging, where it can, less speculative office construction and more residential development instead.
McCauley says the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development plans to study approved office space uses and find ways to expanded those to allow new tenants.
“We see tenants that come in and say, ‘I want to do a wet lab or a robotics engineering floor.’ Right now, zoning is an impediment to that — that would be viewed as industrial in an older code,” he said. “We want to open up offices to creative use of space… [We are] excited about letting them fill the space with newer technologies that an older, 1950s ordinance viewed as industrial.”
Marquez said there’s interest in innovation and light research and development spaces, or even using an office building as a micro-fulfillment center.
Salim Furth, a senior fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, who recently wrote that municipalities can tackle their office vacancy rates by allowing residential development, tells ARLnow that Arlington could go a step further and allow an even greater mix of uses.
“It’s very normal to have some floor for office, and ground floor is retail… but mixing and matching uses — where some floors are for a hotel, some are for a school — these are very normal things that cities should do, and we should make it work,” he said.
Martina Navratilova — record-setting tennis player, communist defector, author, and activist — will join Tyler Cowen at George Mason University’s Arlington campus for a wide-ranging dialogue as part of the Mercatus Center’s Conversations with Tyler series. The conversation is free of charge and open to the public.
Born in Prague, Martina Navratilova began playing tennis at 7 years old and won her first singles title in Orlando, Florida, 10 years later.
As her tennis career ramped up outside the borders of Czechoslovakia, officials in her native country began pressuring her to “behave,” warning her that she would not be granted travel visas if she continued fraternizing with tennis players from other countries or becoming too “Americanized.”
Navratilova, a teenager at the time, began to feel a threat to her tennis aspirations and took the most courageous action of her career. At the age of 18, she defected to the United States, leaving behind her family and native country to pursue her dreams.
Navratilova’s sacrifice paid off. Despite backlash from being one of the first professional athletes to come out as gay, she won the Wimbledon women’s singles title a record nine times.
In all, Navratilova has won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles (an all-time record) and 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles; in total, she has won 59 Grand Slam titles. She continues to play at all the Grand Slams where she takes part in the legends doubles.
A dedicated activist, Navratilova believes that speaking out about political and social issues is a way to give back to the country that gave her so much. While she has involved herself with many charities and causes, she has been especially outspoken about issues that hit closest to home: communism and gay rights.
Navratilova’s activism and depth of thinking make her a prime candidate for the Conversations with Tyler series, which featured basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 2016.
In the series, George Mason economist Tyler Cowen talks to some of today’s most underrated thinkers about everything and anything. More recent guests include Malcolm Gladwell, Larry Summers, and Atul Gawande.
Click here to register for the conversation with Martina Navratilova
What is it like being a conservative voice at The New York Times? Ross Douthat has been just that for the better part of a decade, debuting his weekly column in the spring 2009. At the age of 30, he was the youngest regular op-ed writer the Times ever hired.
Join economist Tyler Cowen and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University for a conversation with Ross Douthat on December 4. The conversation is part of the Mercatus Center’s Conversations with Tyler series, and is open to the public free of charge. You must register to save a spot.
Conversations with Tyler was created with the goal of fostering deep dialogues between people with diverse viewpoints. Of the series, Tyler Cowen has said, “It’s the idea of having dialogues as serious as possible. Don’t make any concessions to the audience. And see who will listen.” Past guests of the series include Malcolm Gladwell, Jhumpa Lahiri and Larry Summers.
It’s no surprise that Ross Douthat is one of the most commonly requested guests for the Conversations with Tyler series; In many ways Cowen and Douthat are the perfect match. Like Cowen, Douthat is known for his comfort with complexity, his ability to think of counterarguments, and his openness to changing his mind.
But despite their similarities, the two have very different ideological leanings. Douthat, who converted to Roman Catholicism in his adolescence, represents the social conservative wing of conservatism. Comfortable with more government intervention than many self-identified conservatives or libertarians, Douthat focuses a lot of his writing on cultural issues: the decline of the family, abortion and the Catholic Church. Cowen, on the other hand, has described himself as a “moderate libertarian” and an “agnostic.”
In fact it was Cowen’s agnosticism that fueled Douthat’s July 6 New York Times column, Should Tyler Cowen Believe in God? In the column, Douthat and Cowen engaged in an online conversation about the rationality of believing in God.
Now, the conversation will continue in reality. Register to attend the December 4 Conversation with Ross Douthat.