Rehashing the old for new avenues

Rehashing the old for new avenues

Rehashing the old for new avenues

Architects and developers in and around Seattle are giving some old buildings a much-needed facelift. Their secret? Just some tender loving care and smart designs. Two real estate companies recently bought the 16-story 1800 Ninth building in Seattle for $76.5 million. About two-thirds of its 3,16,000 square feet space was lying vacant.

So, what did they do? They renovated the 1990 structure and snagged Amazon.com as a tenant, which they couldn’t have done without the revamp, said Bill Pollard, Talon co-founder and managing principal. They sold the building for $150.38 million, with it 97 per cent occupied. “I would say it was the lease with Amazon and the revamp that drove the price up,” Bill said.

There are good deals out there on older office buildings in good locations and developers want to buy more. Some may not be gorgeous, but they can be updated, which is cheaper than new construction. Large companies in new office towers tend to put cafeterias or gyms in their spaces, while the mid-sized firms Talon is going after prefer to share those costs in existing buildings and pay lower rent.

Not an easy task

Changing older buildings is not easy, it requires finesse. You must determine how to do the most good within your budget, and respect the original architecture, said Jennifer Thuma, a principal with Seattle-based LMN Architects. “What you’re doing is trying to pick your battles and figure out which pieces made the most sense to modify,” she said. he revamps LMN is designing usually cost $5-10 million and Jennifer said, “We’re seeing a good return for sure.”

Older buildings’ systems need to be upgraded to handle more employees and their electronic devices. Jennifer said the average space per employee today is 165 square feet. What tenants want in common areas has also changed. For example, a coffee shop has pretty much become a necessity.

Some builders add amenities such as fitness centres, lockers and showers and a new conference centre. Retail and eateries are revamped to encourage people to stay longer.
Architects and developers used to drive the design of office space, Bill said. Now tenants do. They like lots of windows, areas to work and play and collaborative spaces. “Columns are out and open is in,” he said. “Low ceilings are out and high ceilings are in.”

Jennifer said development of new office towers here has put pressure on older buildings to compete, and that means even small things matter. “You don’t necessarily get more rent when you change the graphics in the garage,” Jennifer said, but things like that or a new name give it a fresh look.

LMN did quite a bit of work on the 34-storey 1111 Third Avenue building in Seattle. What had been a “dark and creepy” exterior arcade is now a bigger, lighter, more transparent lobby with new materials and lighting. Corridors, elevator lobbies and restrooms were updated; a fitness centre was added; and an entry was created to the adjacent Second & Spring Building so it shares 1111 Third’s plaza.

The new design of a “tired old building,” in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle, gives the lobby the feel of a living room — a whimsical one with a two-story sculpture of red sticks. The outdoor plaza was also made more inviting with new seating to entice workers in Skyline — and neighbouring buildings. Food trucks set up there and workers mingle.

“What drives a lot of tech is the idea of community” said one expert. “It’s about being social — of having a place where everybody can gather.”

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