Thomas Arledge

The timing for the Oronoco project couldn’t have been better. Its location at the north end of historic Old Town in Alexandria Va., was being developed for greater mixed use and walkability, but it lacked one-level luxury condos for the mostly older, affluent residents who want to downsize and no longer find multiple-level townhouses appealing. Yet, despite its proximity to the nation’s capital and view of the Potomac River, most developers considered the former office building too small, its C shape awkward, its courtyard a waste, and its windows too tiny for sufficient natural light.

But developer EYA saw the site’s potential. The firm, based in nearby Bethesda, Md., has completed enough adaptive reuse projects to recognize a diamond, even if it needs substantial polishing.

Because local zoning restrictions limited new-construction heights to 50 feet, adapting the 70-foot-tall building seemed almost a no-brainer, says Brian Allan Jackson, EYA senior vice president. Even so, adapting the building required imagination.

“[People] thought it looked like a beached cruise ship,” says architect Patrick Burkhart, an architect with Washington, D.C.–based Shalom Baranes Associates.

Thomas Alredge

The team reskinned the formerly brown brick and brown metal façade with an elegant combination of red brick that matches area buildings; insulated aluminum panels with a high-performance metallic finish; and floor-to-ceiling windows. The architects also removed solar water heaters from the existing terraces to gain outdoor living space, and extended each living unit with a 5-foot-wide glass bay.

Because of the difficulty in finding area parking, EYA retained the garage, but not all of its 350 spots, which would have proved wasteful. Instead, the developer kept 150 spaces—more than two per unit. “We had a deep knowledge of the submarket we were selling to,” says Jackson.

Unlike millennials, who desire multiple public spaces to socialize and will make do with smaller units, the target cohort for the Oronoco project wanted the opposite: expansive personal space and fewer shared areas. The building’s density permitted up to 110 condos, but EYA limited the number to 60 to provide 2,000- to 4,000-square-foot, two- and three-bedroom units—smaller than most buyers’ prior homes but hardly “small.” The open-style kitchen–dining–living rooms reflect how most age groups now want to live.

Thomas Alredge

Public spaces include a two-level lobby and amenities geared to an older-but-active clientele including a fitness/yoga center, playroom for visiting grandchildren, 24/7 concierge desk, bike storage, dog washing room, and landscaped outdoor pool. Sabine Roy of SR/A Interior Design in Chevy Chase, Md., developed a sophisticated look echoing swank hotels: an off-white and gray palette, French limestone, cherry paneling, and photos of federal buildings.

Since the project opened in August 2015, all units have sold, with prices from $1.59 million to $4.49 million.

Project: The Oronoco Waterfront Residences, Alexandria, Va.
Developer: EYA, Bethesda, Md.
Architect: Shalom Baranes Associates, Washington, D.C.
Designer: SR/A Interior Design, Chevy Chase, Md.
Size: 60 units, 155,000 square feet
Construction Cost: $46 million (not including land)
Sales Price: $1.59 million to $4.49 million