Suburban Office Overhaul Shows How Design Drives Leasing
Adding Amenities and Workspace to an Outdated Lobby Attracts Tenants in Minneapolis
If you’d asked Betsy Vohs, founder and CEO of Minneapolis design firm Studio BV, if she would take on the redesign of a 200,000-square-foot suburban office before the pandemic, she might have passed on the project. At that time, office leasing activity was centered downtown with only a few big headquarters locations rooted in the suburbs.
But over the past two years, the designer has seen a shift in what companies in the metro area consider a desirable location; a shift that has benefitted some suburban office buildings, which offer easy parking and are closer to where employees live.
So, when Studio BV was approached about revamping an underutilized office building in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Vohs saw the potential to reposition the space, maximize its assets and bring high-end amenities to a building that at the time wasn’t enticing tenants to sign a lease there.
"The building had really great bones, good parking and was in a desirable location,” she said. “It had all the ingredients to be great in theory, but saying it was outdated is an understatement. When they brought us in last year, it was 80% vacant.”
Less than a year later, the One Southwest Crossing office building (OSWX) is now 90% leased.
“No one is going to ‘just go to work’ anymore. If people are actually going back to the office, people want options, choices and amenities,” said Vohs. “When you’re at the office you’re thinking, how interesting is this space? Was it easy to get here and park? Is the environment one that is active and has energy?”
That buzz is unfortunately often lacking in suburban office buildings. The firm based its concept around the idea that their target tenants were tech firms that had been located downtown before COVID-19 and were relocating because of the changing nature of the city.
“But they still want the high level of amenities and design details that you find in the city,” she explained. “So, the ownership was smart to really think about the potential of what this building could be instead of just offering your average suburban office product, which usually isn’t that compelling. They really thought about how to differentiate their building.”
Vohs focused on creating a dynamic common space that was “actually usable.” Previously, the lobby and atrium area was essentially an indoor garden where plants were taking up valuable square footage.
The space is now built out with seating areas, work tables and bars, casual meeting spaces and even conference tables and monitor screens for presentations or company town halls. It will also feature a boutique coffee bar run by a local coffee company. Even the staircase is a functional working area of the atrium with bench seating and tables.
“We really wanted to create these different moments where people could work and connect, and where teams could actually meet in a workable space,” Vohs added. We created different lounge, meeting and collaboration zones, so that it becomes this big, amazing amenity hub that you walk into everyday when you get to work; and it’s bright, attractive, inviting and comfortable.”
The five-story building also offers large floor plates that are 47,000 square feet each, which Vohs said is desirable for a lot of the city’s tech tenants who like to spread out on one level instead of bouncing between multiple floors and disrupting their workflow.
In this employees’ job market, your office is a huge asset for attracting and retaining talent, she said, and anything an employer can do to remove barriers to coming to work will go a long way with employees. One of the key differentiators is offering easy parking, said Vohs.
“For us, parking has become such a huge component of decision-making around office space. It used to just be part of the cost of doing business, people knew they just had to pay for it to go to work,” she said. “Now, no one cares if your building has a fitness center, for example. They want free parking because they’re constantly coming and going. They want their employer to make it easy for them to come to work.”
The building entryway was situated on one side of the building where there was not very much parking. The other side of the building, however, had “piles of parking” Vohs said. The design team pivoted the entry to align with the parking deck, added new pavers, an accessibility ramp, a new entry door and signage.
The new entryway layout also gave them room to add a welcome desk and reception area, which the building was previously lacking.
The building also incorporated a series of catwalks around the U-shaped atrium, but Vohs said they weren’t connected and were only accessible on each floor from the elevator, so no one would actually use them.
The team connected the catwalks from the new second-level entry and added a staircase. “It was a big decision to decide to leverage the catwalks and activate the space vertically with the atrium. We wanted to create a moment that was also beautiful and sculptural to bring you up through the building.”