Picture this: your lunch break spent browsing a local boutique or sweating through a quick gym class or dropping off your dry cleaning and then running to get your nails done…and even better, you only had to walk downstairs. Imagine it. Wouldn’t that be ideal? Unfortunately that is uncommon for most 9-5’ers. Commercial and central business districts that are heavily occupied by offices continually have issues creating this retail environment due to a number of factors, including the lack of housing units to support a residential customer base, architecture that is inadequate for retail uses, and tenants who don’t understand the importance of these mixed-use spaces.
Ground-level retail space is important for a variety of reasons. It increases pedestrian comfort, drives district desirability, and serves as an additional tax base. A successful ground-level retail space creates place for the users of the building and surrounding neighborhood to visit through interior and façade design and a proper tenant mix.
Recent trends show that more and more companies are seeking to locate their offices in buildings that offer a variety of amenities and offerings, including shops, restaurants, gyms, and community spaces. More importantly, they are willing to pay a higher premium for buildings that offer these, and studies have shown that retail at the ground floor has increased office rents above. Ground floor office spaces that are repurposed as retail receive an even higher return on investment.
Additionally, after a productive workday, nearby retail amenities provide a place to unwind, host clients, grab a bite to eat, or pick up those pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing for weeks.
What about offices that occupy ground-level spaces? Those can liven the street too, especially when done creatively. One of our favorite examples is Gensler on K Street in downtown DC. Although Gensler is a private office, the pedestrian experience isn’t interrupted due to an uninteresting or unengaging ground floor design. Pedestrians are able to see employees at work, in meetings, or in the adjacent lobby space.
Gensler’s DC office. Photo via AIA DC/Gensler.
When planning ground-level space in office buildings, there are several things that real estate professionals should keep in mind. Here are a couple:
Involve the Greater Neighborhood
Many commercial and central business districts struggle to keep ground floor businesses open after the traditional 9-5 work day, due to lack of demand. This is an opportunity for the neighborhood and business improvement districts to maintain the ground floor as an amenity by providing a mix of tenants to target different customer bases or add programming such as street festivals and exhibitions to support their retailers.
Create a Place
Walking down a street full of blank cylinder block facades, dead or vacant storefronts, and expansive parking lots create a negative pedestrian experience. Furthermore, these characteristics impact the perception of safety for a street. Streetsense’s Vibrant Streets methodology identifies “safe” as one of the eight steps needed to create thriving commercial district. Regardless of the crime statistics for a neighborhood, the perception of safety can ruin your ability to attract sought after tenants of any use.
For retail, the façade should combine appropriate signage, lighting, colors and materials, and windows to create a sense of safety, illustrate your brand, and provide a great pedestrian experience. This space should be designed to Class A standards.
As the demand for mixed-use spaces continues to grow, more office buildings will need to adapt in order to better market themselves and accommodate employee’s needs. Office buildings that include dynamic ground-level retail in their properties will position themselves at the forefront of a new type of work environment.