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Asana Brings New Ideas to Old Town

August 21, 2018

The real estate investment firm Asana Partners has purchased more than 20 buildings in Old Town, including the iconic theater.

Charlotte, N.C.-based real estate investment firm Asana Partners is shaking up commercial real estate in Old Town Alexandria.

Contes Bike ShopThe company has spent more than $100 million purchasing buildings in Old Town — more than 20 of them, including the Old Town Theater for $4.4 million earlier this year. Most of the buildings are on King Street, clustered in the 800-1100 block and in the 100 block. 

“Old Town is one of the best neighborhoods in the country demographically and very charming, very authentic, very historic,” said Katie Grissom, Asana’s director of Merchandising and Leasing. 

Founded in 2015 by three partners formerly at development firm Edens, Asana partners said the company reached $500 million worth of equity commitments nine months after launching its debut fund. Sources include state pension funds, municipal pension funds, corporate pension funds, insurance companies and endowments. 

Asana sometimes has to work a bit to create walkable retail and dining destinations in some of its other ventures in Charlotte, Atlanta and Austin, but Old Town is ready to go. “It’s been a retail location for the past 200 years,” Grissom said. “It’s been a shopping and dining destination for a very long time.” 

Asana is working to bring new retailers and restaurants to Old Town in a couple of different ways. One is to partner with already-established local restaurant owners, to help them bring new culinary ideas to life. Another is to bring regional or national retailers to King Street who may have been hesitant to locate there for one reason or another. For example, by purchasing several storefronts together, Asana can locate retailers next to each other that complement one another. 

Previously, “fractured ownership” along King Street likely made it difficult to attract certain regional or national retailers, Grissom said. They hope to bring some retailers that have locations in Arlington or Georgetown to Old Town. 

A store like women’s clothing retailer Madewell, a sister brand of J.Crew, for instance, wouldn’t necessarily want to be located next to a convenience store, she said. 

That challenge is not unique to Old Town, she said. “You have to build a strategy when buildings aren’t owned by one entity.” 

By owning multiple properties, Asana is going to be “piecing together part of the puzzle,” she said. “The great thing about Old Town is it’s the most established neighborhood we’re in.” 

Of the properties Asana owns in Alexandria, there are very few vacancies — 75 percent of them are leased, Grissom said. 

Old Town TheaterThe iconic Old Town Theater was purchased this year by Asana Partners for $4.4 million.

At least two (and likely more to come, she said) of the properties are restaurants: Urbano 116 at 116 King Street and Augie’s Mussel House at 1106 King St. 

Asana is working with Mason Social (Common Plate Hospitality) to bring the two restaurants to King Street. For Urbano 116, they brought a chef from Mexico City to help curate the menu and help teach authentic cooking techniques. Augie’s will have small plates, a more casual feel and European vibe, she said. (Expect a pop-up eatery on its patio as renovations continue on the interior.) 

Asana is working with other local businesses to bring their vision to life on King Street, working with local brokers KLNB as well as architect 

Paul Beckmann, builder Murray Bonitt and Advanced Construction Group, which is owned by the same folks behind Mason Social. 

Grissom said the hope is to make King Street an “18-hour” shopping destination with shoppers and diners lingering longer. 

In addition to retail and dining, Asana is also working with a mix of tech and marketing companies as well as companies adding satellite offices to Alexandria to fill office space on the upper floors of their properties. 

As for the Old Town Theater? “It was a very long dance but we did end up buying it,” Grissom said. The theater was built in 1914 and opening as the Richmond Theater. It has had a bumpy ride the past few decades under multiple owners. 

“We’re really focused on finding the right user,” for the space, she said. However, it probably will not be used as an entertainment space. “The likelihood of it being that is very low.” 

One of the other notable buildings owned by Asana is at 102 S. Patrick St., the current home of popular Misha’s coffee shop, which plans a move to 917 King St. Grissom said the building on South Patrick Street is “challenging” because of its shape. “We’ll find something interesting, we’ll wait for the right tenant.” 

The 8,000-square foot space formerly occupied by European Country Living at 1006 King St., is being divided into three spaces, one of which will house Drybar in one of the ground-floor spots. A service-based retailer is expected to move into the second-floor space; an elevator is being added to make it ADA compliant. 

Another property at 815 King St., which includes a rooftop terrace, will “very, very likely be a restaurant,” Grissom said. “We’re working on exciting opportunities new to the market.” 

SOURCE: Alexandria Living Magazine, Mary Ann Barton

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