Our New Home

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the project?
The Board of Governors of the D.C. Bar authorized the Bar to enter into an agreement to purchase land at 901 4th Street NW, in the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood, and to design and build a headquarters building at the site. The approximately 100,000 2.1 million square feet - construction factoidsquare-foot building will house the Bar's headquarters operations with approximately 32,000 square feet available for lease that will generate income for the Bar. Ultimately, the Bar's new home will be part of a much larger development project that will total about 2.1 million square feet. The Bar's project is expected to be completed by late 2017/early 2018. We anticipate that the project will provide savings of at least $25 million to $30 million or more over 30 years versus renting. It will also significantly enhance the Bar's ability to fulfill its core mission and strategic goals.

2. Why the decision to invest and design a building for the D.C. Bar?
The D.C. Bar has had the authority to acquire a building since it was established in 1972, though it has not had the ability to do so until now. Favorable interest rates, real estate market conditions, and other factors have now aligned in a way that make this project possible. The three other large unified bar associations—California, Florida, and Texas—were able to take advantage of similar opportunities years ago. Now it is our turn.

The D.C. Bar elected this project over renting for many of the same reasons Americans choose to buy their homes instead of renting, if they can: long-term cost control, creating equity, gaining flexibility for future use, and a more visible presence in the community.

Building savings, greenOffice rents in downtown D.C. have increased almost 3 percent a year over the last 20 years. After executing its fourth long-term lease for office space since the Bar's founding, the Bar in 2009 started to focus on planning for its future occupancy needs. In 2010 the Board of Governors approved the creation of a reserve fund to have flexibility in meeting its future occupancy needs. In 2014 we enlisted independent experts to help us explore real estate market conditions and to better understand all of our options. We learned that the decision to own rather than continuing to lease was not only the most financially sound option, but it would also pave the path to achieving our strategic plan and vision for the future of the Bar.

Owning our own building will save the Bar millions—$25 million to $30 million projected over 30 years, as well as create equity in the building itself—and provide greater member value. The Bar has never been in a position before to take such a significant step toward long-term cost control.

Furthermore, the legal profession is facing new challenges. The landscape is changing and the D.C. Bar is responding with a new strategic plan to better support our members. The new headquarters will allow us to realize numerous member benefits, including, for example, a production studio allowing us to capture our members' wealth of knowledge and deliver it to the 40,000 members who live outside of the Washington metropolitan area. We are creating a community and place where Bar members can work, network, learn, and utilize valuable services, all while significantly containing occupancy cost levels and building equity.

3. How was the decision made?
The concept review process began in March 2014.

Throughout the process, we worked with real estate consultants, architects, banks, auditors, and real estate attorneys to weigh all of our occupancy options. We examined our reserves position, the costs associated with leasing, interest rates, and a large array of potential buildings and sites within the District—all of which demonstrated that owning our own building would be preferable to entering into another long-term lease.

Additionally, as part of our strategic planning research efforts, we surveyed the membership and conducted an in-depth economic scan of the future of the profession and what attorneys will need most. Those findings strongly influenced our decision. Our members are facing significant professional and personal challenges in a rapidly changing environment. They are looking to the D.C. Bar to provide more programming to help them maintain professional competence at all stages of their careers. They expect and deserve the highest quality offerings both in person and online. The opportunity to deliver on those needs by spending less on occupancy and investing more on programming was very compelling to the Board.

The process included significant governance oversight by several Board of Governors' committees and, ultimately, the full Board itself.

4. How many other mandatory bars own their building?
3 out of 4 bars -  construction factoidOur peer state bars in the large-size category (State Bar of California, Florida Bar, and State Bar of Texas) all own their buildings. More broadly, approximately three-quarters of all large and medium bars own their buildings. (According to the American Bar Association)

5. How does the decision impact my dues?
D.C. Bar dues are set annually by the Board of Governors based on an extensive budgeting process for the coming fiscal year and are subject to a dues ceiling set by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Occupancy costs are just one of the many factors that go into calculating dues. They are a significant factor, however, which is why long-term occupancy cost control is so important. Because of the many variables that impact our budget, it is not possible to predict future dues with real certainty.

Fortunately, however, our organization is financially healthy and the building project will, over the long term, moderate the pressure from other factors to increase dues. Even through the recession, the D.C. Bar made smart financial investments that have kept us strong and stable. Investment earnings on our building and other reserve funds were a significant factor in our ability to pursue ownership over renting as we have been able to allocate reserves to cover the entirety of the down payment.

The estimated savings of $25 million to $30 million or more over 30 years of occupancy will reduce the pressure to increase dues even as other categories of costs (such as health care for employees) are expected to increase. The beneficial downward pressure on dues will be strongest after the building is complete and the Bar has fully transitioned into the new space. In the near term, however, the project may have little to no effect on dues (e.g., from $0 up to $7) during the first five years, depending on a number of variables.

6. What is the construction timeline?
As with all construction projects, timelines can change. We are committed to keeping the membership informed of our progress. View our projected timeline.

7. How does this project benefit me?
74 percent - construction factoidThe project provides an unprecedented opportunity for long-term occupancy cost control over the next 30 years, thereby moderating the pressure for Bar dues increases. In short, the project is expected to save the Bar $25 million to $30 million or more over 30 years, not including the equity we expect will accrue.

The building will also allow us to expand the Bar's capabilities in serving the needs of the membership. The Bar's headquarters has roughly 25,000 member visits annually. The new building will enhance our capabilities to serve those members and entice others to participate more actively. This translates to new resources such as, but not limited to, more classroom space, increased capabilities to allow expanded delivery of events, and more networking opportunities, plus overall broader awareness of the D.C. Bar and the attorneys who make up the organization. There's huge potential. Furthermore, we will be better situated to connect with and serve the 40,000 members living outside of the Washington metropolitan area. The in-house production studio will allow for recorded CLEs to be available on-demand and for live streaming of important member meetings.

8. Where will the new headquarters be built?
The location is 901 4th Street NW, in the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood. It is a mere nine blocks from the Bar's current location, and the neighborhood has recently been selected as the home of Arnold & Porter LLP and the Association of American Medical Colleges, as well as the future home of Venable LLP and The Advisory Board. It is convenient to both the D.C. and federal court buildings. Public transportation options abound and include access to four Metrorail stations, three Capital Bikeshare stations, and extensive bus service, including the D.C. Circulator. Neighborhood amenities consist of more than 45 restaurants and retailers like Safeway, CVS Pharmacy, SoulCycle, RMP Italian, Sweetgreen, Chipotle, and VIDA Fitness, to name a few.

9. How will the D.C. Bar monitor the progress of the building?
The Board of Governors has established a Building Advisory Task Force to monitor the progress of the project and provide it with regular progress reports. In addition, the membership and public will be provided updates through our social media channels, e-mail, Web site, and Washington Lawyer magazine.

10. Will the pro bono activities that currently take place at the Bar's headquarters continue after the move?
Yes! Our new space will provide expanded meeting room capabilities and is only nine blocks from our current location with easy access by four Metrorail stations, three Capital Bikeshare stations, and extensive bus service, including the D.C. Circulator. The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center currently serves over 20,000 individuals annually through programs at our offices, as well as in the community. We are excited that the new space will allow us to do even more.  

11. How can I share thoughts on this transaction or raise questions?
We're always looking for member feedback, and we've set up a special e-mail address related to the building project: newhome@dcbar.org.