How can experience management activate an office building?

How a focus on tenant experience turned a historic building into a major draw for office tenants

June 20, 2022

What was once the largest post office in the world is now a 2.5 million-square-foot home to many office tenants and an incredible array of amenity spaces. Owner 601W Companies transformed Chicago’s Old Post Office as part of one of the most significant adaptive reuse projects in the country. But then, they decided to take it a step further with the help of JLL’s experience management services, incorporating a concierge service, a grand food hall, outdoor space and tenant lounges. The cherry on top—next-level tenant experiences paired with each amenity.

The reason? JLL research shows  that by 2025, properties that incorporate a diverse roster of amenities will experience 12% higher demand from tenants versus their plain commodity counterparts.

So, how can building owners transform their properties into places of purpose like the Old Post Office? Find out in this episode of Building Places, where host James Cook interviews Tom Larance, Head of Experience Management at JLL, and Jamie Sowski, who manages marketing and events at the Old Post Office.

Want to learn more about how JLL’s Experience Management experts can bring added impact to your property? Click here.

[00:00:00] James Cook: So, what do you think of when I say post office? Probably not all that exciting. Right? Well, the Old Chicago Post Office is just that. It's this historic building built in the twenties and thirties, but it was recently part of the largest historical redevelopment in the nation. And once you do a big, beautiful redevelopment, you’ve got to activate that project with people.

And that is what we're talking about today. How experience management is used to bring life to the Old Chicago Post Office.

 This is building places where we look at the world of commercial real estate through the eyes of the experts that study it every day. My name is James Cook and I research real estate for JLL.

[00:00:59] Jamie Sowski: I'm Jamie Sowski. I'm the marketing and events manager for the Old Post Office here in Chicago.

[00:01:07] Tom Larance: I'm Tom Larance and I am the head of JLLs experience management platform.

[00:01:13] James Cook: Such a great title. Experience management, like whose experience are you managing?

So it's certainly is changing and, the commercial real estate industry has never changed so rapidly as it is today. And technology has a lot to do with that. the experience today has to accommodate and really focus on what is this new hybrid workforce? one of the bigger, broader goals of experience management is We go from spaces to a place of purpose

[00:01:46] Tom Larance: What is it today? What do we see in five years? What do we see in 10 years? And in doing this, we are helping our owners and asset managers reposition their properties, to be relevant today, as we come through this completely new era in the commercial real estate industry.

 So, I've recognize the building. I have the old post office because it's iconic. according to the website, it was built in 1921 it's two and a half million square feet. It's not a post office anymore. Like what is it?

[00:02:18] Tom Larance: Well, I think that there are a couple of different things. It is an office building. An events venue, but most importantly, and one of the things that I really love about this iconic building is it is. Exactly what we are doing today with all of our assets. It is a destination,

[00:02:36] Jamie Sowski: that was extremely well said. It is definitely a destination. and I am very lucky. I get to enjoy these beautiful sites, all the amazing amenities. and we have very happy tenants as well.

[00:02:48] James Cook: So Jamie you're working out of there Tell me about like, how you get there. What it's like when you arrive, what does it look and feel like?

 So I'm back on taking the Metra. I get to walk into the beautiful historic lobby. that's our grand entrance at 4 33 west van Buren. It still has all of that feel of all the history to the space.

but they've done such a good job of then bringing in modern attributes. So you walk into this gorgeous, like marble and gold, the lobby, and then as you progress through the grand hall, we have our food hall. That's opening soon. Our community manager concierge, there's a Walgreens. And then there's this grand escalator that leads you up to the second floor.

 I take that escalator up to my office every day and I get these beautiful views. you see pieces to original conveyor belts that light up the wall on the east side. every bit of the walk through this building, there's something new to see and just, they've done a beautiful job.

[00:03:47] Tom Larance: as Jamie mentioned, the food hall is slated to open very soon. So we're really working to attract local, not just other. People that are working in the area, And so this is going to be open for everyone on the main level to really enjoy these amenities of the property.

 So experience management, it's not just about the experience of an office worker, but it's about. The outside visitors who come in to the food hall, it's about events that you put on. It's all kinds of different stuff.

[00:04:18] Tom Larance: That's absolutely right. And we manage this in a couple of different places. We also manage this at a property in Houston where the food hall is connected to other office buildings so the food hall is the draw, but then our community manager or concierge. Is creating activations and, opportunities that are drawing people in outside of just having the food hall.

 is the future in food?

[00:04:44] Tom Larance: I think it's going to be a big part, you know, the post office is just sort of leading the way they have embraced the old post office,and everything that they're doing, and it's really working in, it fits for them.

And it's, it's just the right. feel. it all goes back to that comradery sense of community sense of, everyone belonging and It's just to create a place where people enjoy getting together for whatever that is.

Food and beverage is always going to be a part of that.

[00:05:10] James Cook: So, the post office has gone through this transformation kind of from a historic building to a destination What amenities was the old post office looking to add?

Like what have we worked on?

[00:05:22] Jamie Sowski: you know, the vision was a commercial, a tenant building. So really focusing on those amenities too, that draw people into the office. And make it a destination. we have, like our telegram lounge. It's a really neat space that tenants can come enjoy for lunch, or even after work,

There's a bocce court, two pool tables, you know, while the wall, window views overlooking the river and the city. There's a library, which is a quiet space that they can come and work in during the day. There's the rooftop. bringing in that green space for sustainability and for people to go outside and enjoy during their long workdays as well. the rooftop space also includes a basketball court , two paddle ball courts, a bar area, and lounge areas. So I think the vision was really, giving, commercial tenants, amenities and things that draw them into the office.

[00:06:15] James Cook: We talk about amenities all the time in the real estate world. There's this difference between amenities and activated amenities? explain to me what that means.

[00:06:23] Tom Larance: well, Jamie just described, the amenities Here's what the space offers physically. Here are these amenities. but what we now do is activate that We may have a basketball tournament. for the tenants in the building And these are things because the building has this amenity they're low cost activations, to create.

[00:06:41] James Cook: So an amenity might be, a coffee shop and an activated amenity is, you're going to put on a mixer at the coffee shop, maybe. there's like a DJ playing like there's real stuff going on. how many different activations do you do? what's the variety?

now that tenants are coming back into the office, more, we're able to do a little bit more for them, there is at least a minimum of two, tenant. Per month. there's probably three to four, I should say currently because there's two gym classes.

so whether that be a yoga class, a hit class on the basketball court on the rooftop. but there's two fitness classes that are offered to all tenants complimentary, whether they're a gym member or not. And then we do a sound meditation class monthly as well, which is really nice. .

[00:07:27] Jamie Sowski: And then there's also another fun addition. There’s been succulent workshops, wreath making workshop. So it can depend on the season or if there's a holiday going on.

and the tenants really enjoy it. and it's a way to bring different groups in the building together as well. So the different companies can meet each other. And then on the flip side of that, we've frequently, on nights and weekends have these neat amenity spaces that then become activated for events. does this enhance the value of the asset for the owner?

[00:07:56] Tom Larance: without question it does. And one of the things that we bring to the table for our clients is all of the research and the information We are studying trends. Every single day, constantly studying. And so these activations that we're doing, we are researching and studying what our tenants want.

but when you talk about value, these things may have once been considered a nicety wa when you talk about the once a year ice cream social, but now it's a necessity. to get them back to the office. we have to take a space we have to create a purpose.

[00:08:30] James Cook: historically when we talk about property management, it's very different from what we're talking about here. This almost sounds like hospitality. is that kind of what you provide is almost sort of an experience that one might get at a hotel.

[00:08:43] Tom Larance: Absolutely. Without question, everything is changing from how we look at managing these, assets and it is absolutely hospitality focus. There's no way around it. it's, what's required today.

[00:08:54] James Cook: how do you figure out what's the right experience for my building?

[00:08:57] Tom Larance: we research each asset individually. for a client of ours in Boston, we were given the opportunity to design the. amenity floor. we came in with our design partners and our fitness partners and the leasing team and the building management. And it was a collaborative effort to figure out how much of this space will be the tenant lounge. How much do we need for the conference centers, and leasing was very involved with what they know that their tenant base and what they need in order to continue to lease the property.

 With almost the one JLL approach. We look at it, we study it, we bring all of our resources together.

[00:09:37] Tom Larance: So it's a one-stop shop. And we determine with the client, what is the best opportunity for them to capitalize on the space they have for their amenities?

[00:09:47] James Cook: I'm curious about The, the old post office and I pulled up a map.

What's your immediate neighborhood like around there? How is this post

office going to add a new amenity

 to that area,

[00:09:58] Jamie Sowski: it's exciting to see this area getting developed. more things coming to the area, more people, even in terms of condos, but in terms of commercial, we’ve got the new BMO tower that opened on canal. So that's bringing a lot more commercial to the area, as well as a nice park over there.

there are some other commercial offices in the area that are being developed as well. do you have, any plans on the horizon for the future at the post office?

not to say the last piece because this space, ever developing it, you know, used to be the running joke. When you came in, like what are we going to see new today? Cause the first couple of years, we're constantly evolving, but we are excited to have the food hall open, and kind of be the last piece of that puzzle. We've got this really beautiful east Riverside area. looking forward to a great summer of activating these spaces with tenants coming back into the office, enjoying the outside area, and really seeing the rooftop.

Utilized to its full potential

I love it. Thank you guys. Thank you both so much for your time. Thank you, James. Have a good day.

[00:11:00] James Cook: If you enjoyed our conversation today, do me a favor go into the app that you're listening to right now and give us a rating even better. Give us a little review. Give us a sentence about what you like about the show.

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 This episode of building places was produced by Jordyn Squiers.

Our theme music was written and performed by Joel Karachi.