If companies want people back in the office, they have to make the office worth it, says Keystone’s Rich Gottlieb
The future of the office is in flux. If companies want people coming back to the office, they have to offer a place worth coming back to, says Keystone president and COO Rich Gottlieb.
“We’re place-makers,” he told BOSS.
To prove this point, Keystone’s headquarters at 1K1 in West Conshohocken, Pa., is the first building in the market to use smart glass technology. The glass adjusts its tint based on the position of the sun throughout the day. It also adjusts to temperature and glare, somewhat akin to glasses with Transitions lenses, but for an entire building. Maximizing the amount of natural light while maintaining a comfortable temperature makes for a pleasant place to spend the day, which makes for a better work environment.
Keystone also relit 1K1’s garage with LEDs that provide brighter coverage at a lower cost. The HVAC filtration is optimized for air quality and the faucets are low-flow to save water. Outside, The Curve is a 360-degree outdoor terrace with games, seating areas, and a quarter-mile walking path. A 4,500-square-foot gym opened in March. If you had to go to an office, it’s the kind of place you’d want to go. That’s the philosophy behind all Keystone’s projects.
“We look at all our properties, all the time and say, ‘What’s the best use for them?” Gottlieb said.
A lot of times, that best use is something different than what the buildings were originally designed for. Adaptive reuse is certainly nothing new, but it’s seeing a renaissance as sustainability efforts ramp up.
One building that has served many functions in its life span is The Curtis, which opened in 1910 as the 1-million-square-foot home of Curtis Publishing, printing such titles as “The Saturday Evening Post” and “Ladies’ Home Journal.” Its 12-story atrium remains one of the great public spaces in Philadelphia, and the Beaux Arts façade now fronts retail space, offices, and high-end residences.
There are often challenges with adaptive reuse. Zoning laws, for one, often limit what a space can be used for. Converting office buildings to apartments is difficult because old office buildings tend to be deeper and have more space between windows. Since apartments need that natural light, a lot of space in the middle ends up unused. In a new building, it’s easy to have a template and simply replicate that floor by floor, but adapting older buildings requires adjusting to their intricacies, often an expensive process.
“It’s a little different, a little more work. Sometimes it’s very hard to make the numbers work,” Gottlieb said.
But when you preserve buildings as majestic as The Curtis and give them new life, the payoff is fantastic.
Making the Most of Mixed Use
What really makes an office a nice place to be is an abundance of amenities within walking distance.
“We firmly believe in mixed use within a building or within several buildings clustered together,” Gottlieb said, “especially in areas where there’s high traffic. It’s nice to have that creative area where there’s walkability. There’s no reason to get in your car to go to lunch or for errands. Walk home, walk to the office, or walk to the movies, shopping, groceries, things like that. We feel it’s really important. People are looking for that convenience.”
A prime example is SORA West in Conshohocken, home of the AmerisourceBergen world headquarters. Right next door is Hotel West & Main, a boutique hotel and restaurant space overlooking the Schuylkill River. The hotel lobby and restaurants are in a repurposed firehouse built nearly 150 years ago that has been on the National Register of Historic Places for almost half a century. In the center of the development is a large public-private plaza.
“We’ve created an anchor, and it’s close to the train, close to other public transportation, close to a bike trail system and in a neighborhood that’s very desirable. We really feel like not only did we do a great development for us but it’s elevating the entire community,” he said.
Conshohocken is a walkable, densely populated place, but its downtown was lacking in the kind of vibrancy that makes for a very livable 15-minute city. With SORA West, “it becomes a place to go and makes it easy for everybody.”
The Right Environment
People are looking to the construction and development industry to be more responsive in the face of climate change, Gottlieb acknowledged. That’s why Keystone tries to purchase renewable energy whenever possible, like the 4-megawatt solar array at its APX development in Morristown, N.J., and try innovations like the smart glass tech.
“We can help with the E, the environmental part,” he said. “The social and the governance, that’s for the individual companies” that are Keystone’s tenants.
That environment extends beyond climate sustainability to creating an atmosphere that makes life enjoyable. Gottlieb shared a story of placing a ping pong table in the atrium of a building as an amenity. All of a sudden, a competitive league sprang up among the companies renting office space there, with prime parking spaces and time off as the major prizes for beating rivals. Keystone had to invest in a nice scoreboard.
“It was team-building and getting together and having relationships with your people,” he said.
So, while he admits remote work has some nice aspects, he doesn’t see it as sustainable.
“People have no connection to their employer and the employer has no personal connection to their employee,” he said. “So, neither of them care about each other after a while. That’s not the way to build a company culture and make people part of something and create a greater good.”
Keystone will be there to provide the great places to live, work, and shop.
“I think that’s the future of commercial real estate, place-making.”