by Marc Margulies
How do tenants decide which building to take space in? What are the factors that inform the leasing decision? Clearly, cost comes strongly into play, but the financials are often very competitive. The decision may thus be swayed by the physical attributes of one location versus another. How can older or “dated” looking buildings be repositioned for maximum appeal? What are savvy landlords doing to their buildings to attract and retain good-credit tenants? A few factors to consider:
Why does Boston’s innovation district have such great appeal to growing companies? The reason, in part, is because immediately outside the front door there are a dozen funky restaurants, health clubs, Hubway bike racks, and waterfront music and bars. Given a choice, tenants invariably prefer having convenient access to these kinds of amenities, even if it’s in a suburban setting. Companies want a dynamic, energetic environment – one that has both life-style convenience for staff and the facilities to keep employees from losing work-time by leaving the building.
Ideally, all the conveniences of an active urban environment would be nearby. Food is the most desirable amenity, and a dominant trend is to provide healthy menu alternatives with adjacent outside dining. The most powerful statement about repositioning a building is the creation of an active dining/meeting/community gathering space adjacent to or as part of the main lobby that helps to bring life and energy to the common areas, one that can be used for casual meetings even beyond food-service hours. The lobby and gathering space should be wireless-enabled with comfortable and flexible furniture. When visitors come to the building, it should feel active, productive, and energetic.
Other attractive services include dry cleaning drop off/pick up and shared conference facilities with robust audiovisual capabilities. A “micro-mart” can offer 24/7 access to a wide variety of fresh products and typical sundries in a secure self-service environment. Some kind of fitness facility is indispensable; in larger buildings, the fitness facility usually has substantial offerings, but at a minimum provides showers, locker rooms, and some aerobic workout machines.
Historic buildings have a unique appeal that new buildings cannot duplicate; new buildings have the long-span, light-filled, flexible footprints and modern common-area finishes that are so attractive. Many buildings built from 1960 to 1990 are caught in-between, and if they remain un-renovated, often feel trapped in time. To remain competitive, dated finishes must be judiciously replaced, and the overall aesthetic environment made to feel fresh.
Some tell-tale signs that new finishes are needed include natural oak (anywhere), drywall stair railing/half-wall, bordered carpet in the corridors, terra cotta floor tile, heavily fissured ceiling tile, two-toned wood paneling, artwork of miscellaneous sizes and frames, walls with multi-colored, heavily patterned marble, or large round recessed lights. Bathroom finishes should not have 4×4 floor tile on the walls and floor, rust on the toilet partitions, or plastic laminate sink counters with exposed plumbing or 2×2 fluorescent lights.
Instead, the lobby, corridors, bathrooms and elevators should be light, bright, and clean with contemporary colors and furniture. The “wayfinding” (signage) should be visible and designed around a theme consistent with the building marketing. If there is a security desk, it should feel more like a concierge than a guard post.
Finally, many of the buildings constructed in the 1970’s during the energy crisis had narrow windows with high sills and bronze tinted glass. The color of the light, particularly in the lobbies, is significantly degraded, making the interiors feel darker and less cheerful. This limited window line is an inherent disadvantage relative to newer buildings, but the color of the glass exacerbates the problem. Replacement of some or all of the windows with clear, low-E glass makes an enormous difference.
With minimal effort, a building can achieve USGBC LEED EB (Existing Building) status, and the plaque in the main lobby is a powerful statement about the building management’s commitment to providing a healthy work environment. While smaller tenants may not pursue LEED certification, tenants often prefer LEED-certified buildings, and a high percentage of large corporations insist on it.
Few building owners are enthusiastic about the LEED process and cost. Tenants often view it as a statement about the quality of property management. There is a rigor that comes from LEED certification that assures tenants that their office is well maintained, healthy, safe, and environmentally friendly.
High-quality tenants in the marketplace want to feel comfortable that the building they are moving to is going to be an asset to their successful, profitable, and productive company, and that prospective employees will see it as an attractive place to work. Amenities, aesthetics, and sustainability are three key elements to successfully appealing to them.
Marc Margulies, AIA, LEED AP, is a principal at Margulies Perruzzi Architects.