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Last month, I had the privilege of being asked to sit on a panel. It was for a biannual retreat held by a large—and successful—international construction company.

I took my seat alongside the other experts: a prominent real estate broker who specializes in working with tech and millennial clients; a national tenant that this construction firm worked on behalf of previously; a former commercial broker turned start-up entrepreneur; the head of leasing at an established building ownership in the Northeast region; and a representative from a venture capitalist firm that incubates and invests in new, would-be enterprises. We looked out to the audience of approximately 80 construction executives, all eagerly awaiting our thoughts on a topic I talked about in my last Commercial Observer column.

They wanted to hear about TAMI, the forward-thinking technology, advertising, media and information services companies that have had a starring role in many of the articles I’ve written over the past two years. As someone who does more than just write about the subject—we work with these types of tenants and with landlords looking to design for this new generation of entrepreneurs—I was right at home. As a group, our charge was to educate this group of contractors and get them up to speed and deeply into the mindset of the millennial. It was much more than your typical panel with a rehearsed Q&A. Ideas flowed freely and the discussion changed course, allowing both panelists and participants to get much out of the afternoon.

As is typically my experience, I took away just as much as I gave. Here are a few of the things I brought back to my senior team:

1) You can’t always believe what you hear.

A popular sentiment I’ve heard over the past few weeks is that the boom is done. Prices are starting to come down and the market is going to slow. Well, that’s simply not been my experience, based on the quality of the new projects being presented to us, and, by listening to the members of the audience. I’d say nearly 80 percent agreed that the market is not going backward in the next 12 months.

2) Patience is a virtue.

Not every opportunity adds up to success, but if you are willing to do the work, those that pan out can be more than worthwhile. In hearing the venture capital firm talk, they estimate that they look at nearly 100 firms, before paring down to 10 percent or less, in order to get to three that will ultimately get to the next level. It was an eye-opening stat and a good reminder that, in the commercial real estate business, whether you’re on the leasing or design side, there is value in weeding through what isn’t a fit to get to what is.

4) Tech is your friend.

Brokers are increasingly looking to technology as a tool to help them lease space or show it to clients in a more engaging way. New tools are allowing brokers to be two to three steps ahead in communicating value—financially, mechanically, design-wise or what have you. Not only is this due diligence happening more quickly, it’s also more accurate and in-depth, giving decision-makers far more tangible information to base decisions and negotiations on. Mobile apps, 3-D walk-through technology, video tours and more are helping end users grasp metrics and comps in an updated, real-world way.

5) Don’t be a dinosaur.

Speaking of staying up-to-date, one of the primary takeaways from the event was that even the largest, most established firms—one which has been around for several decades—need to look toward the future and ask questions. I tip my hat to the construction company for taking the next step and being open to input. They may be around for a long while, but they’re not about to become dinosaurs! I think we can all learn something from that.

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Criteo, a French online advertising company, has signed a 10-year lease for 19,269 square feet amassing the entire 10th floor of TF Cornerstone’s 387 Park Avenue South, expanding its footprint in the 12-story property to nearly 60,000 square feet.

The firm is growing from its current 40,000-square-foot New York headquarters on the entire 11th and 12th floors of the office and retail property between East 27th and East 28th Streets. Criteo’s lease includes exclusive access to the building’s outdoor roof deck which includes a 2,000-square-foot glass conference space. The company moved into the space about six months ago, as The Wall Street Journal reported. Asking rents in the building are $77 per square foot.

“The capital improvements we have invested in this asset have been a significant driver in the robust leasing activity at 387 Park Avenue South and the high-grade tenant mix in both the office and retail portions of the property,” Palmer Sealy, the director of office leasing at TF Cornerstone, said in a statement.

Matt Leon of Newmark Grubb Knight Frankrepresented TF Cornerstone in the transaction and a team led by CBRE’s David Hollanderbrokered the deal for the tenant.

“Criteo chose this location for a combination of the energy and vibe of Midtown South and proximity to public transportation,” Mr. Hollander said in prepared remarks. “The building itself has completed a fabulous renovation and Criteo has very special space inclusive of skylights and significant outdoor space.”

TF Cornerstone is currently completing a $20 million building renovation, including installation of an all-glass façade at the base, a new roof deck and heating and ventilation systems, as well as revitalization of two lobbies and elevators.

The 230,000-square-foot property is 78 percent leased following Criteo’s expansion. Other new office tenants include residential brokerage Citi Habitats and workspace provider Regus. On the retail end, Artisanal Fromagerie Bistro and fitness centerBarry’s Bootcamp recently signed deals at 387 Park Avenue South to open next year.

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You’ve probably been hearing lots about TAMI these days—a.k.a., technology, advertising, media and information companies. The commercial real estate industry is talking about TAMI for good reasons: these forward-thinking firms are in high demand and are growing at an impressively rapid pace.

The smaller, yet successful TAMIs that began as spry startups are now maturing and finding themselves in the position of needing to evolve to stay at the forefront and compete with the bigger industry players. They are eager to recruit and retain talent, and office design, as I often discuss in this very column, can help them do just that. For TAMI firms that are ready to graduate to an office space that will last for years to come, I recommend the following five shifts:

More tech. Digital displays are one way technology companies can differentiate themselves from the average incubator firm. One client we worked with in Austin, Texas, made touch-screen technology the first thing visitors encountered when they entered the reception area. With the tip of your finger, you could see what was going on with the firm’s global offices, experience its projects in an interactive way and even check out job offerings. It was something the client wasn’t able to execute in its early years, but was now ready to incorporate into its design. The message: The company is immersed in the digital and tech world and is ready to demonstrate that to everyone who steps foot in its offices.

Upgraded amenities. Maybe it’s a coffee bar with a Nespresso and custom soda machine; an outdoor gathering space and lounge; or a formal cooking area stocked with gourmet treats. When TAMI firms mature, it’s fitting that they up their amenity game with more sophisticated offerings. One New York City tech firm we designed a space for, on Park Avenue South, built a roof deck with the lifestyle aesthetic of the Ace Hotel and it’s been the office standout ever since.

Less IKEA, more perm pieces. As firms grow and look at a more long-term plan, it’s wise to take a look at furnishings. When a company is just getting started and running on venture capital funding, and inside a space they’ve subleased for two or three years, it makes sense to keep the furniture budget at bay. However, once a company is ready to invest in a larger space and commit to a 10-year lease, for instance, they should consider furnishings that are more durable and can go the distance. An architect or designer can advise on options, including whether it makes sense to lease, buy used, or purchase brand new, and what furnishings will best contribute to a more established look.

Invest in branding. Once a TAMI firm comes of age, it should more clearly define its brand image. A digital video branding company we worked with did just that by displaying items that spoke to its history and principles, a key recruiting and retention tool. The “story” of the company can also be woven into the design through color choices, art and even carpet patterns.

Get better acoustics. As startups grow, they often yearn for improved acoustics. While open, collaborative and flexible multipurpose spaces—including the ever-popular “free address” spaces for visiting executives, auditors or part-time workers—are still in demand, additional attention to the ceiling, flooring, finishes and wall materials can allow technology and video conferencing to exist in harmony with quiet work-centric areas.

It’s important to stay hungry, maintaining the enthusiasm and innovation of a startup. However, when the time is right, it’s perfectly fine to trade up and become “established.”

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It’s no secret that I’m a huge proponent of businesses having a workplace strategy, simply defined as the alignment of an organization’s work patterns with its physical environment. In fact, one of my first guest columns in this publication was essentially a long love letter extolling the virtues of workplace strategy. I received lots of positive feedback from it, as one does when they discuss a concept that could lead to increased productivity and cost savings. That’s why I’ve decided to talk about it again, this time sharing with you the top five reasons you should consider taking the time to bring this up with your internal team and architect.

After all, the extra planning involved in looking at the efficiency of a space, commuting patterns of those who work in it, the co-tenants in the building you occupy, lighting, furniture and ergonomics and layout of offices, workstations and shared spaces is, I assure you, time well spent. Here are some of the outcomes you can expect from the effort.

1) Better employee engagement – Involving the people who work in an office in the conversation about what it should look and feel like is a real game changer. It often inspires change during the design and build-out, or expansion of an existing space, and helps decision makers rethink how everyone works. These talks also help a company stay up-to-date on trends, allow them to come up with fresh alternatives and spur discussions that aid in the design process. While these concepts still need to be vetted and explored — and not all will be accepted — the ones that are can yield enormous results. For instance, during a recent interactive workshop with a bank client of ours, a discussion ensued about office management executives sitting in the same area as the head of banking, when it really made sense for them to sit with their own teams that they meet and work with each day. Since that set-up had been in place since the founding of the bank, nobody ever thought to change it or explore if another solution made better sense. Yet, out of this workplace strategy meeting, and thanks to an open mind set on the part of team, a change was embraced with full consensus. This scenario was a perfect example of how collaboration can create stronger leaders and workers and can inspire culture and brand loyalty.

2) Coveted cost savings – Did you know that most firms use only 30 to 50 percent of their offices at any given moment? Surprising, isn’t it? Workplace strategy can uncover hidden profit centers, allow firms to save on real estate costs beyond basic densification or add value through better, more efficient systems. Win, win and, oh yes, win!

3) A happier, more productive workforce – It’s been well reported that the right environment can lead to a boost in the health and output of employees. Could a more open office environment, or one with collaborative spaces, change the office dynamics? Certainly! Not to be discounted are incorporating amenities areas, such as snack bars, into design. A recent study of 1,000 full-time workers, by grocery-delivery service Peapod, noted that employee satisfaction jumps from 56 percent to 67 percent when there’s access to complimentary food. Millennials, in particular, are drawn to free snacks, with 48% of them weighing the availability of them in job search decisions.

4) Workforce stability – Workplace strategy is key to recruiting and retaining top talent. To effectively compete, companies ought to design not just for the present, but for the future. Analyzing trends and looking at patterns can ensure that you’re keeping pace with workers’ needs and borrowing a page from the playbook of other firms that are attracting the best and brightest, even if you’re not an Internet technology company.

5) A handle on where you’re at and where you can go – As workplaces change from closed environments to more open ones, it’s critical to perform benchmarking studies to compare your firm with others in a similar industry. Data gathering and analyzing metrics allows you to go back five to ten years to see how your firm measures up and to implement a strategy that makes sense for you. Maybe it’s looking at the raw square footage per person, ratios of open versus enclosed offices, or the number of meeting room seats to employee seats, to see if your law or accounting firm is keeping pace with others in your city.

Go on, have “the talk.” I can almost certainly guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

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Last night The American Institute of Architects celebrated an evening full of festivities as they commemorated outstanding architectural achievement this past year.

The winners are:

Brookfield Place Pavilion | Excellence in Architecture
SUNY College at Old Westbury | Excellence in Architecture
Stony Brook Medicine | Excellence in Architecture Commendation
123 William Street | Excellence in Architecture Commendation

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We recently put the finishing touches on a stunning new Manhattan office space for a recognized worldwide leader in the recruitment industry with offices all over the world. What’s so special about that, you may wonder? Great question. What made this move-in particularly noteworthy was that every decision made—design, build and implement—happened remotely, yet it was still a smooth process.

That’s not to say it was without challenges. For instance, our primary contact for this office design project was a London-based head of real estate and she never once visited the site in person. Factoring in our client’s international schedule and heavy travel agenda, we served as her firm’s local extension, coordinating the architecture and design.

Among the day-to-day hurdles we faced was a six-hour time difference, narrowing the amount of time for communication. Presentations needed to be highly detailed so that no time was wasted, and all of them needed to be delivered via GoToMeeting and Google Hangout.

We oversaw several aspects of the project and led the team with some good old-fashioned ingenuity, careful budgeting and a healthy dose of planning. For instance, our client’s preferred furniture dealer was located in another part of the U.S. (we never had the chance to meet them in person, either!), so we needed to heavily coordinate delivery of materials for sign-off, shipping finish samples overseas and utilizing couriers to deliver products to their door, all while factoring extra time into the schedule.

Technology has made projects such as these easier to execute from afar, whether it’s in another part of the U.S., Europe or even the Far East. Teleconferencing and video chats are hardly a new thing, and it is still necessary to choreograph the design plan so that, for instance, a client can walk on top carpet choices in China or Paris. But some fresh technology has allowed for a more seamless execution.

One of the tools we used in our work with the recruitment firm was Newforma, a software that let us manage project details at the office, from the cloud and on the go. It allowed us easy Web access and connectivity with multiple parties. Best of all, the project files all lived in one place so our client could view them readily.

Another tool we found helpful was content management solution Plan Grid. We were able to work online or offline, synchronize markups and documents and build from pretty much anywhere. We were able to maintain one master set of drawings with automatic version control and keep the whole team up to date. Through Plan Grid we developed punch lists to capture photos, locations and notes from the field and created and distributed reports from our iPads.

While there may have been nearly 3,500 miles between us and our London-based client, through the use of smart technology, careful planning and personalized attention, we could not feel closer to them or their finished space. We recently met the New York team in their new space and look forward to shaking the hand of our London counterpart when she’s in the city next!

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In recognition of the United Nations’ World Habitat Day, Bank of America, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity International, is launching its second Global Build, taking place in eight countries around the world. During one week and across 11 time zones, the Global Build will feature the first-ever home build in New York City’s Bryant Park, where volunteers will build in partnership with a local Habitat family. The projects taking place during Global Build aim to address affordable housing challenges, revitalize communities and help families around the world improve their living conditions and achieve home ownership.

“Affordable housing is critical to financial well-being and is linked to improved health, education and economic outcomes for families and children,” said Andrew Plepler, Bank of America’s Global Corporate Social Responsibility executive. “Through our longstanding relationship with Habitat for Humanity, we have been able to partner on efforts like the Global Build and bring our international scale to help more people achieve homeownership and put them on the path to a stronger financial future.”

During the week, approximately 2,000 Bank of America employees will volunteer with Habitat for Humanity to revitalize neighborhoods in 75 communities around the world, including London, Hong Kong, Sydney, Jakarta, Manila, Toronto, and Mumbai. Volunteers will also participate in the feature event in Bryant Park, erecting the frame of an eco-friendly house over the course of the day that will become home to a family in Long Island, New York.

“We are happy to partner with Bank of America for the second Global Build to help those in need of safe, decent, affordable housing,” said Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International. “The volunteer commitment and financial support from Bank of America is vital to fulfilling our shared goals of building homes, communities and hope.”

Bank of America and Habitat for Humanity have worked together for more than 25 years to support neighborhood revitalization efforts around the world. What started as a house sponsorship program in 1990 has evolved into a robust partnership. Bank of America has invested more than $26 million in philanthropic support since 2002 and employee volunteers annually give approximately 35,000 hours of time to support Habitat’s mission and help families access affordable housing.

The partnership and the Global Build are part of Bank of America’s broader commitment to helping people live better financial lives and to supporting stronger communities and stable economies. Overall, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation has donated nearly $23 million in grants to over 800 nonprofits in the U.S. this year to help individuals and families gain financial stability through access to affordable housing and financial coaching.

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old is new

 

A colleague of mine ran into my office one day this summer, enthused to share some news. She had just been to the opening reception for “Bill Cunningham: Facades,” held in partnership with the New York Historical Society at the Southampton Arts Center. While strolling through the gallery, she encountered a snapshot of a woman in period clothing standing before a surprisingly familiar Art Deco grill. It was that of our office building, 183 Madison Avenue.

Among the spots Cunningham, arguably one of the most influential authorities on style and fashion to stroll these streets, chose to capture was our building’s facade. Not only was the image of art-meets-architecture striking, it also underscored something I tell clients who are considering locating in a landmark structure — be prepared to be recognized. Having your office in an iconic building with so much history plays into your own firm’s branding and helps you stand out from the crowd.

We’ve experienced this phenomenon firsthand. Our building, also known as the Madison-Belmont Building, was designed by the same architect that brought Grand Central into its grandeur. You can sense the experience as soon as you walk into lobby. The tone is set through iron and bronze framing and railings on the lower floors. Striking floor-to-ceiling windows, which must be maintained according to the building’s past, add to the charm.

However, ours is hardly the only building in Manhattan with landmark design perks to be realized. I’m also a fan of 1501 Broadway, the old Paramount Theatre. We recently had the experience of working with the landlord to bring more light into the space by creating new windows that respected and worked around the existing facade. Unique architectural details, 20-foot ceilings and an open, column-free layout are among the many reasons I recommend this spot to prospective tenants looking for a perfect mix of old and new.

Storied spaces can also work equally well for retailers. Several brands have recently opted for buildings with character galore and have hired architects who are skilled in designing around a building’s bones. Take the historic Villard Mansion on Madison, which was tapped for a retail space a year ago by Trunk Club and helped the e-comm retailer successfully make a bricks and mortar debut. Key to its success was locating in a landmarked site with 16-foot ceilings, a striking staircase, courtyard entry and smaller rooms that divided up the 26,200-square-foot space. All of these charming touches led to a standout design that set Trunk Club apart from the pack. Others are following suit, including headline-worthy Apple, which boasts a landmarked location in Soho.

It’s a trend we’re bound to see for some time to come. After all, when tenants and landlords call upon a project team that respects the beauty of the past and is eager to enhance what they are given to work with, the end result can be especially memorable. Be prepared to never be forgotten!

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