The reasons that people choose to occupy one piece of real estate over another are legion. The usual suspects are location, amenities, economics and improvements — quantifiable attributes that can be explained in a memo to the board or to the boss. Most buildings on a prospective tenant’s short list will be fairly equal in these left-brain reasons for occupancy, but there are simply not many unique reasons to choose one building over the other.
There is one unusual and indefinable attribute that prompts prospective occupants to choose one place over another. People speak of it in unquantifiable terms that are often expressions of feelings — “I love the feel of this place; I feel at home here” — rather than analytics. Although these are not the typical comments one could write in the memo to the board, the real reasons for selecting one building over another are emotional. Basically, marketing is a connection with the buyer.
In a market where occupancy is 95 percent, this is really not an economic issue. As long as the building operator matches the competition, occupancy will in his property will remain at an acceptable level. However, in a market where occupancy is 75 percent, this emotional attachment can make the difference.
In late 2006, my company purchased an office building that had been abandoned by high-technology giants such as AT&T, Xerox and Applied Materials during dot-com downsizings. The 25-year-old property needed a renovation, but it was also lacking something much more essential. The building, with its open public atrium-style lobby and soaring heights, appeared lifeless. We soon began our search for affordable artwork to enliven the space.
The artwork hanging in our lobby and corridors certainly enhances the overall beauty of the building, but, more important, it gives our building new life, offering an opportunity for our tenants and the surrounding community to engage with culture. With every themed art exhibition, we host an artist reception for tenants, their guests and the public to enjoy. Art professors from the university and other artists who have previously exhibited in the space also attending the openings.
Most people spend more waking hours at work Monday through Friday than at home. The office is where they live and where their lives are intertwined with others. With the additional presence of artwork in the workplace comes the sense of involvement with the creative process.
Like most good ideas whose time has come, the art program could not be contained in the building. It has spilled out into the larger community, and the building has become known for its ARTSpace. The once lifeless lobby has become a community meeting place for a variety of gatherings, including opening galas, art awards ceremonies and commercial real estate industry events. It is a nice place to be.
Has it made a difference? The building is happily 100 percent leased in a market approaching 25 percent vacancy.
— Joe Lewis is the president of San Jose, Calif.-based Orchard Commercial.