While some large corporations have bet on the benefits of moving their headquarters downtown, the revival of dozens of suburban office buildings is convincing many other companies to remain in the suburbs and enjoy the urban feel of a redevelopment. Today’s employees appreciate a workplace that allows for activity-based work and amenities throughout the space—which older building’s original layouts may not support.
Given this convergence of trends, owners who invest in building improvements will be a step ahead in the race for tenants. The incoming wave of Generation Z talent and millennials, Gen X and baby boomers alike will prefer working in buildings with office amenities that rival the luxuries we see in the CBD of Chicago, like the Schaumburg Corporate Center. GlenStar’s recently-completed renovation of this 1-million-square-foot campus includes a state-of-the-art conference center, club room, new parking deck and fully updated atrium.
But the reshaping of the suburban office market is about more than large, complex redevelopments in Class A buildings. What about smaller office buildings with less robust redevelopment budgets? If you look closely, you’ll see there’s plenty of activity happening there, too.
Evaluating your options
Office building improvements can be scaled for the size, market and budget of the building. Before you start sketching out plans for a new fitness center or tenant lounge, take a look at what the market is demanding. In the Oak Brook or O’Hare submarkets, you may need to do more to enhance your building to stand out against the competition. But in a less competitive suburb, more minimal building improvements can give you a leg up on the smaller supply of other buildings.
Another factor to consider is the opportunity based on the building vacancy and current rents. If you have a significant chunk of the building to lease, investing in building improvements can result in more leasing activity down the line—with an eye toward higher rents too.
Ultimately, redevelopment is about creating a new narrative for a tired building, whether you move forward with a major renovation or a smaller “spritz.” Following are a few ideas for how to enhance the workplace experience for current and future tenants in any building.
The lobby is increasingly becoming a social space for tenants and visitors alike. And as the hospitality industry influences the office of the future, lobbies are one of the most obvious spaces to bring in the vibe of a hotel. Providing comfortable seating areas for socialization and alternative workspace creates a more energetic welcome into the building.
A newly renovated lobby at U.S. Cellular Plaza near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport reflects this trend on a grander scale. The lounge-like lobby experience offers a bright, welcoming space for employees to gather. It features sculptural light fixtures, media screens and a guest-friendly security desk.
If a less extensive overhaul is needed, one of the simplest solutions to bring a lobby into the 21st Century is to clad over or replace outdated materials. Turn the dark, brown-tiled lobby of yesteryear into today’s bright and airy entrance with lighter colored tile on the floors or walls and pale wood desks.
Tearing up old flooring and wall panels may drive up the costs though, so if possible, look into installing tiles over outdated flooring or stripping and re-staining wood. And don’t overlook the transformative power of paint. You can take an outdated bright orange room to a classy, modern space with a few coats of “greige.”
Lighting offers another easy opportunity to create a new look. Replace clunky, outdated fixtures with modern, eye-catching features. Additionally, newer fixtures can hold more efficient light bulbs which lead to two additional outcomes: lower energy bills and less harsh lighting. These smaller upgrades can be applied throughout the building as well.
Make room for amenities
Popularized by tech firms, amenity suites have been making their way into CBDs across the country, and Chicago is no different. Tenant lounges, dining halls, communal conference rooms and fitness centers are mainstays at many of Chicago’s new and repurposed office buildings. Now they’re increasingly found in the suburbs, too.
A full-scale upgrade is underway at The Shuman in Naperville. Once renovations are complete, tenants will have access to a full suite of state-of-the-art, building-wide amenities. The five-story atrium and socially-activated lobby features a grand staircase leading to the ground floor chock-full of amenities.
Tenants will be able to start their workday at Manan, a barista-staffed café serving fresh brewed coffees, teas, juices and smoothies, or dine at Fiona’s Fare, offering farm-to-table options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Third-party fitness center provider Lifestart Fitness will manage Elevate, the tenant-only fitness center complete with a full locker room and towel service. The game room and golf simulator will allow tenants to blow off steam without breaking a sweat.
This type of renovation may work for larger-scale projects, but not all buildings have the space for an entire amenity suite. Making do with the space you have by adding a small café and/or adding seating options for collaborative work or a tenant lounge can improve a tenant’s relationship with the space.
Franklin Partners, the owners of 1900 Spring Road in Oak Brook, have installed a café in the ground level of the building for tenants to grab a quick snack or meal before, during or after the work day. And at 1333 Butterfield Road in Downers Grove, the building owner upgraded a communal space to a welcoming tenant lounge—resulting in a spike of leasing activity that nearly filled the building.
The trends are clear—the flight to quality is driving tenant leasing decisions in the CBD and suburbs alike. The future of suburban offices must include upgrades and amenities to attract incoming younger talent. Luckily, these building enhancements are applicable for any size, budget or location.
Steve Wright, AIA, LEED AP, is co-founder and Principal of Wright Heerema Architects. He has more than 40 years of experience designing corporate and investment office properties across the United States.
Roger Heerema, AIA, is co-founder and Principal of Wright Heerema Architects. Roger has more than 30 years of experience designing highly successful buildings and interiors throughout Chicagoland and across the country.