With COVID-19 dictating the future of office needs nationwide, one developer hopes to attract tenants with a building that puts coronavirus health and safety at the core of the design.
At 2017 N. Mendell St. in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, local firm Baker Development Corp. rehabbed a century-old former industrial building into a 62,000-square-foot, four-star boutique office, with loft-style suites ranging from 4,700 to 17,000 square feet spread across the four floors. While data about office leasing decisions has varied this year as individual companies evaluate their own space needs, developers and brokers have anecdotally seen a shift toward tenants seeking more personalized, private and boutique offerings where they can have control over their own space and better maintain social distancing during the pandemic.
“We are seeing a lot of activity from smaller tenants that no longer want to be a small fish in a big pond,” said Daniel Slack, principal at Baker Development Corp. “That’s happening for a number of reasons, most of which are COVID-related. Tenants want to have greater control over their environment.”
A New Era for Amenities
The lure of 2017 N. Mendell isn’t just its smaller footprint. The building is designed with an emphasis on occupant health, incorporating state-of-the-art medical grade pathogen mitigation systems — and it’s the first office in Chicago to do so as part of a turn-key buildout, the developer claimed.
The air filtration system continuously pumps fresh air into the building and features an advanced oxidation process with hospital-grade ultraviolet-C (UVC) and photoionization technology to sanitize the building air and reduce pollutants. HEPA filters, which are often used in hospital and high-risk environments, are utilized in the HVAC systems. Through these measures, Slack said that over 99% of airborne pathogens, both viral and bacterial, are eliminated.
Medical-grade plasma and blue light technologies, which the developer said are harmless to humans, mitigate the risk of exposure by killing airborne and contact pathogens throughout the building, especially in restrooms, common areas and lobbies. The blue light fixtures emit UVC light and remain on 24/7 to kill surface contaminants. “When you look at [the light fixtures] from the ground, you wouldn't recognize that they look any different from [a standard light],” said Slack.
And of course, everything is touchless. The design incorporates all hands-free plumbing fixtures in the restrooms and uses a touchless fob system for building access control.
Tapping into natural resources that are proven to increase employee health and wellbeing overall, the building lets in ample sunlight throughout the day and uses View Dynamic Glass with programmable window tinting to control light, reduce glare and manage temperature within the office. Tenants also have access to a 3,200-square-foot rooftop deck with Wi-Fi for working and meeting with colleagues outdoors or getting fresh air throughout the day.
A Future-Proof Investment
While we won’t be living and working amid the coronavirus pandemic forever, Slack said the emphasis on health and wellness in our workplaces will endure.
“At the end of the day, what's good for COVID is also good for the common cold or the flu. We get vaccines for the flu, and while it might make your symptoms more mild, people do still get sick. [Features like these] will keep viruses from transmitting and create a much healthier work environment,” he said. “I think this is one of those things that is just going to be a paradigm shift. What seems novel now will become standard in every building, making for a healthier work environment and giving employees more confidence about coming to work — because there will be a time when employees are ready and want to go back to the office.”
With that shift toward healthier workplaces will come new norms regarding what tenants expect from their office buildings, meaning developers will need to incorporate health-conscious features into new builds from the start.
When asked about how some of these more high-tech systems would impact a building’s operating costs, a factor that might make both owners and tenants wary of taking on added expenses, Slack said that the cost was negligible, especially when planned during initial construction.
“You have to consider first cost, which is the cost of construction. If you plan these things to be incorporated [before building], you're talking about [a difference of] pennies. If you have to go back and retrofit these systems, it's a little more complicated and therefore more expensive,” he explained.
He anecdotally compares utilizing these pathogen mitigation systems, which may seem like going above and beyond to some, to being on the forefront of the green building movement 25 years ago.
“Back then, there was [skepticism] around green buildings and you were paying a premium to do it, and nobody really knew what they were doing because they had no roadmap,” he said. “But now, everything we do has some kind environmentally sensitive strategy to it. As it has become mainstream over time, everyone now has a LEED-certified building because they understand the strategy. So, with [these high-tech health systems], which don’t really add any incremental costs at all, if the difference is having an empty building or a fully-leased building, that’s a no brainer.”