When local attorney Peter Burnett purchased the building at 338 East Market St., he considered it then, as now, “the ugliest building in Leesburg.”
What started as a Tastee Freez location over the years has also housed a veterinary clinic, a bank, a locksmith shop and, currently, another of Burnett’s projects, the Ampersand Food Pantry. Burnett’s initial plans were to fix the building up and sell it to a bank that desired a better presence on a well-traveled thoroughfare. Plans changed when the bank got new leadership, which left Burnett sitting on a rather expensive piece of real estate.
“I just decided I was sick of waiting for lowball contracts,” Burnett said. “I thought I could figure out a way to redo the building in a way that would help me pay the mortgage on the outrageous price I paid for it and the outrageous cost to redo it.”
The proliferation of co-working spaces, particularly in the era of COVID-19 when traditional office environments are not as desirable, gave Burnett an idea—to create an attractive building with a selection of offices for rent, as well as drop-in spaces. Although that alone is not necessarily a novel idea, some of Burnett’s other touches certainly are.
For one, he is endeavoring to create the first commercial building in Loudoun County with net-zero energy consumption. The building will include solar panels on the roof, geothermal heating and cooling, all LED lighting, plus the addition of more windows to utilize more natural light, and a styrofoam insulative envelope over the entire outside of the building.
“In the summer and winter [the building] is going to use more energy than it produces but in chillier seasons the solar energy generates more energy than the building needs,” he said. “You produce energy, and all that goes into the meter.”
Burnett said he plans to use as many recycled materials as he can in the building; will put UV filters in the air handler to sanitize the air as it circulates; and will also have a few electric car charging stations available in the parking lot.
Also unique to the concept is a podcast and YouTube studio which can be rented by the hour.
He expects to have 18 offices available for lease in the little more than 4,000 square feet of space, along with another 10 to 12 cubicle spaces, a conference room, lounge area, and a kitchen. As further attraction to local workers, a 5G pole is right outside of the building, “so the hookup to the internet should be very powerful,” Burnett said.
He is hopeful that the building’s makeover will be just what the area needs.
“The idea of that block within Catoctin Circle to Moms Apple Pie is to animate it, which is a challenge. To have it be a bit of an invitation or tease to the historic district. I think this building helps with that,” he said.
He is also confident it will be a popular addition to Leesburg. Being located within the HUBZone, which gives small businesses located there priority access to federal procurement contracts, can’t hurt either.
“There’s more and more a sense of people wanting to not be at home but they can’t necessarily go into the office and this provides that middle ground,” he said.
Burnett emphasized there is not yet an end date assigned to his popular Ampersand Food Pantry, which has served more than 70,000 free lunches, and provided diapers and other essentials since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. He points to the nonprofit’s two other locations on Harrison Street and Edwards Ferry Road as continuing Ampersand’s mission even after its 338 Market St. location is closed.
“With minor adjustments to the way we assemble the lunches and diapers we could give away the same amount of meals at the other two locations,” Burnett said. He also hopes the nonprofit will be able to host COVID vaccinations when supplies are sufficient.
Burnett recently secured approvals needed from the Planning Commission for modifications of the Crescent Design District’s architectural requirements to move forward with the project. He said he hopes to begin construction on his co-working space in the spring, with a projected opening in the fall.