Tourists in Their Own Backyard: Office Landlords Look to Make Office Buildings into Destinations

October 17, 2022 5 Minute Read

Office Landlords Look to Make Office Buildings into Destinations

Turning alleyways into vibrant dining experiences. Converting lobbies into impromptu conference spots. Orchestrating outdoor circus events. Landlords are testing out all sorts of new ways to activate office buildings and common spaces, aiming to create unique destinations that will lure remote workers back to the office and better integrate with the surrounding communities.

The amenitization of office lobbies is not a new trend, however, landlords are more compelled than ever to make their buildings appealing to tenants and visitors. That may require a fresh perspective and guidance from an industry known for creating destinations – tourism.

“This is a critical moment for office landlords,” says CBRE Tourism Consulting Senior Director Rebecca Godfrey, whose group is advising landlords on the activation of their office and retail spaces. “More than ever before, they face the same pressure as tourist destinations: to attract visitors and stay relevant in changing times.”

This takes the flight to quality to the next level: the flight to relevance.

Office tenants have long had a preference for newer, state of the art spaces that have the potential to elevate their brand identity and set them apart in the war for talent. Propelling office buildings into the same conversation as new attractions and world-class destinations could be an added differentiator in attracting top talent to businesses while drawing new visitors during or after business hours.

“Landlords can bridge the transition of the return to the office by maintaining visibility and the interest of tenants,” says Godfrey. “They can do this by engaging the destination they’re part of and activating their public spaces.”

Alleyway Dining

In Toronto, Dream is repositioning eight historic Bay Street buildings as luxury boutique offices, dubbed the Dream Collection, and maximizing the spaces between them. Working in collaboration with renowned local restaurateurs, Dream is converting the district’s alleyways into public dining venues.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that tenants prioritize amenitized buildings that support local businesses and communities,” says CBRE Senior Vice President Brendan Sullivan, who is working with Dream to lease the office space. “Curated activation projects like this provide tenants with a unique experience that not only draws employees back to the office but makes them genuinely enjoy the atmosphere where they work.”

At another of Sullivan’s projects, Menkes Development’s Waterfront Innovation Centre, the lobby plays an active role in supporting the flourishing Toronto tech and healthcare communities. WIC’s two adjacent buildings are connected through a joined second-floor lobby named The Nexus, which serves as an innovation and collaboration space for tenants including theScore, WPP and startup incubator MaRS.

The Nexus has a café with banquette-style seating, board rooms of various sizes and a grand staircase leading to neighbouring Sugar Beach. A massive auditorium hosts conferences, exhibitions, symposiums and a range of other tech and health-oriented events coordinated by MaRS.

“Projects like these embody the future of office work,” Sullivan says. “And CBRE has the resources and perspective, including our tourism professionals, to help landlords get ahead of the curve.”

Trailblazers are emerging across North America. Salesforce is activating their San Francisco office lobby with a responsive video installation while Place Ville Marie in Montreal brought Cirque Éloise to town. 1001 Robert-Bourassa Boulevard, once known as 700 de la Gauchetière Street West, is being reimagined to include multimedia art inspired by Mount Royal and a ground-floor event venue featuring a digital display wall. Montreal’s cultural flair and less institutional ownership structure makes it uniquely positioned to lead the reinvention of office spaces.

“Offices have always been destinations. Now they just have to think outside the box,” says Eugenia Olshevskaya, Transaction Manager at CBRE and office leasing advisor in Montreal. “Change can be daunting, but the potential to appeal to a broader range of users in and around office buildings has resulted in some really exciting conversations. We’re finding landlords are open to new ideas and we’re just at the beginning of bringing new life to office buildings and downtown cores.”

Dream Alley

Activation and Adaptation

In reimagining the common spaces of buildings as destinations that will attract workers back to the office and engage the surrounding community, office landlords have been looking to the tourism industry for inspiration and ideas.

But it’s not for the faint of heart. The entertainment landscape can be challenging to navigate as it’s constantly evolving; while static attractions such as museums were once the rage, tourists are now seeking interactive activities that allow them to experience local culture. “Attractions must create authentic immersive experiences to keep visitors engaged, and tourism destinations need to be relevant to locals,” says CBRE’s Rebecca Godfrey. “Office landlords and building owners can learn a lot from tourism and hospitality, which is all about good first impressions and the seamless transition between everyday life and “an experience””. 

Office landlords are also having to adapt to these same trends as they seek to create a unique experience for employees and visitors to their properties. The strategic activation of common spaces can help in crafting a distinctive building identity.

Dynamic animation is one way that landlords can help to enliven common spaces. By day, toned-down animations can add vibrancy while respecting quieter business hours. By night, energetic animations can be used to repurpose lobbies as event venues, helping to invigorate business districts that traditionally go dormant after the 9 to 5.  

Activation projects can also be beneficial for community integration. Flexible initiatives such as pop-up art installations bring new traffic into the space while providing artists with exposure to a new crowd. Partnerships with non-traditional users of office space, such as local artists, can help buildings stay relevant without breaking the bank with their entertainment outlay.

“It’s crucial for asset owners, in tourism or traditional property types, to keep innovating and maintaining their appeal in the digital age,” says Godfrey.

Learning from Experts

CBRE’s Tourism Consulting group assists landlords in identifying potential activation opportunities for their buildings. Guided by in-depth analysis of best practices and tourism trends, Godfrey’s group develops short- and long-term recommendations and creates partnerships between landlords and local groups.

Godfrey is excited about the endless opportunities presented by the integration of tourism and office space. “While there is a lot of uncertainty around the return to office,” she says, “landlords are just beginning to tap into new partnerships and tenants that can address their current challenges. They’re opening themselves to opportunities they would never have considered three years ago.”

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