A downtown trend: Older lobbies are getting jazzy makeovers
Jazz up the lobby, and the tenants will come.
That’s the approach a growing number of downtown office buildings are taking as they launch ambitious re-dos of their lobbies and front-door areas, adding massive video screens and eye-catching signs, sumptuous seating areas, and hip coffee stands in a bid to stand out to the tech companies that have been flooding into the Financial District.
The latest such lobby reinvention debuted last week, at 110 High St., just off Post Office Square downtown. The formerly grim back door of the massive Art Deco building at 50 Post Office Square, 110 High reemerged from months of construction as a 35-foot-tall glass box, boasting big windows, a roof deck, and interactive digital signs along Congress Street.
It was a bid by the building’s owner, LaSalle Investment Management, to give the place a little more pizzazz while, as LaSalle executive Kristy Heurberger put it, “capturing Boston’s rich history and bright future” with the first-of-its-kind interactive video boards.
And it helped fill the building’s two empty floors.
As it unveiled the new lobby, LaSalle announced that it has signed a lease for 117,000 square feet — all of the building’s empty space — with the life science data firm Medidata. In March, Medidata will move its newly acquired subsidiary Shyft Analytics there from its current office in Waltham. It plans to eventually have 600 to 800 employees in the space, said human resources chief Jill Larsen.
Like many other companies, Medidata wanted to move downtown for better access to talented workers — and potential customers — Larsen said. A highly visible spot with a highly visible lobby in Post Office Square will give the company the kind of profile it’s never had.
“For us, it’s really a great branding opportunity,” Larsen said. “There’s lots of foot traffic, car traffic. If we’re doing events, it’ll allow us to be seen.”
A lobby refresh is a relatively easy way for the owners of older office buildings — and there are many in the Financial District — to make a splash and compete with newer buildings in Boston’s Seaport and Kendall Square in Cambridge, said Dave Martel, executive managing director at Newmark Knight Frank, a real estate firm. Martel worked for LaSalle on the Medidata agreement and often brokers downtown office deals. Revamped ground-floor common areas also reflect the reality that employees want to escape crowded work spaces without necessarily leaving the building.
“A lot of these buildings are 35 years old, and what people wanted from the 1970s through the 2000s is different than what people want today,” he said. “Lobbies today aren’t just a place to walk through to get upstairs. They’re a place to make a statement.”
That’s certainly the case with 100 Federal St. The building — just across the street from 110 High — opened an 18,000-square-foot atrium with a huge video display and a Blue Bottle Coffee stand. Around the corner, 160 Federal and 100 High streets are turning their neighboring lobbies into a food hall with room for more than 20 vendors. Across the city, at least 13 buildings have either recently opened or are planning major lobby renovations, according to CoStar, a real estate data firm.
Despite Boston’s red-hot office market, Martel said, buildings still have to stand out if they want to land top companies. And those tenants want a nice place to work — down to the ground floor.
“These are things that tenants these days demand, and that landlords have to do,” he said. “It’s all about getting tenants in the building.”