Innovative Workplaces Spread As Landlords,‘Creative-Type’ Firms Revive Old, New Spots
By Sean Belk - Staff Writer
July 17, 2012 - Enter the offices of digital media firm Cie Games in Downtown Long Beach, and you’ll come across a silver, wrap-around reception desk made out of a jet-engine part known as a cowling. Walk a little further and you’ll find a mixture of workstations, writable glass walls and a miniature putting green.
What stands out possibly the most, though, is a shiny fuselage from a Boeing 737 that now works as two sliding doors for the firm’s conference room.
“Our space is a very important part of our business . . . It’s where we spend so much of our time coming up with the ideas that keep our company moving forward,” said Dennis Suggs, president and CEO of Cie Games, an offshoot of social media and mobile “app” developer, Cie Studios, which has grown from 25 to 98 employees.
The firm’s nearly 15,000-square-foot office arrangement takes up the entire 18th floor at the Landmark Square building at 111 W. Ocean Blvd., and is now considered a prime example of what creative office space designs in Long Beach could become, according to local business interior designers and property owners.
The space, designed by Los Angeles-based global architecture firm Gensler, won the 2011 REmmy Award for “innovative workplaces” from the Southern California Chapter of CoreNet Global. The project, put together on a “tight budget,” according to the designer, was hailed for “blending the design of the space [with] creating a new culture and thus raising the bar for real estate in Southern California.”
Matt Gammel, a senior associate at Gensler, said the project goes a long way in showcasing the local area’s potential. He said the firm chose to expand in Long Beach partly because of the local region’s growing digital tech “talent pool,” which traditionally has been dominated by Los Angeles or the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley.
“This not only gives a critical mass to the building . . . but also gives Downtown Long Beach that same kind of prestige . . . that a major player in the creative media market has chosen to locate in this particular area as opposed to other parts of Los Angeles County,” he said.
More and more creative companies and start-ups, whether in digital advertising, architecture or technology, are looking for affordable, yet inspirational work areas that speak to their profession, designers explained. Many digital firms need less storage space and, instead, are seeking more “connectivity,” meaning a variety of Internet connections and service providers in offices that encourage collaboration in the workplace.
The cool, quirky designs in old buildings – often with concrete, exposed ceilings and natural lighting and ventilation – are in contrast to the traditional, one-size-fits-all “vanilla” corporate offices of the past few decades, said Toliver Morris, property manager for Brookfield Properties, which owns Landmark Square. Although such renovations can become an expensive proposition for landlords, he said some property owners are willing to take the risk to accommodate today’s growing, tech-savvy firms that request more of a “personalized,” organic layout.
“Most companies are looking for something that’s unique,” Morris said. “They have to live in their offices for a large part . . . so they want to have something that reflects either their firm’s culture or their employees’ personalities.”
Michael Bohn, design director and principal of Studio One Eleven at Perkowitz + Ruth Architects, calls the movement a part of the growing “creative class” and sees the trend gaining momentum in Long Beach. “One way to create more office space and attract a creative class is to take some of these older, under-performing buildings and give them new life,” he said.
In the last two years, the office space market in Long Beach has somewhat firmed up, with sales and leasing activity continuing to improve. For many small firms, the city provides offers an urban, coastal setting that’s still affordable, Bohn said. Although property owners aren’t jumping to develop new office buildings just yet, what they are doing, he said, is embracing what some call “creative reuse,” or cost effective and sustainable renovations of existing office space to attract niche tenants. Bohn said it’s a market that has plenty of room to grow.
One project that has helped birth downtown’s turnaround is Studio One Eleven’s development at 4th Street and Linden Avenue in the East Village Arts District. The award-winning project, completed in 2010, involved a team of local investors converting a rundown 20,000-square-foot former abandoned warehouse into an incubator of creative office suites called East Village Creative Offices.
Today, the complex – which features brick walls, natural lighting and ventilation and indoor and outdoor spaces – is home to such firms as: Ventures-web hosting, which relocated from the South Bay; Aetypic, a San Francisco-based architecture and engineering firm that opened a new branch office; and Lit Rite, a lighting consultant that relocated from Los Alamitos.
Other firms at 4th + Linden include: Lyons Art Supply, which relocated from across the street; Dash Dot, an industrial designer from Signal Hill; Atlantic Studios Hair Saloon, which relocated from Retro Row; JR van Dijs Inc., a developer and contractor from Alamitos Beach; and a new public policy/planning consultant start-up known as City Fabrick.
Bohn said the creative office complex has spurred what the design firm calls “incremental urbanism,” where small-scale improvements positively play off each other toward a more cohesive, sustainable and healthy environment. Across the street, for example, Berlin Café has installed a new “parklet” – considered one of the first of its kind in Southern California and also designed by Studio One Eleven – that replaces a parking space with a casual, outside sitting area for local patrons, professionals and residents.
Similar designs have also taken root in other more inland parts of Long Beach, Bohn added, including The ZaSo (Zafaria South) Design District, where old industrial buildings were converted into creative office spaces on Coronado Street, just north of Anaheim Avenue. Last year, the business district introduced lunch trucks to inspire a more collaborative business environment.
Some tenants, developers and property owners are also looking to revive old, historical buildings through “adaptive reuse,” where city planners scale back zoning regulations to allow purposes different than a building’s original use. One example is a project underway to restore the American Hotel at 224 E. Broadway, built in 1905 and considered one of the oldest commercial structures in Long Beach.
Alan Burks, president of Environ Architecture, Inc., said his company is designing the project with developer Jan van Dijs, responsible for restoring The Art Theatre, and advertising firm interTrend Communications, Inc. Once the property changes hands from the city’s defunct redevelopment agency, plans for the ground floor call for office space, restaurant and retail use, he said, while the second and third floors are to be occupied by the advertising firm. “In Long Beach, there’s still a continuing trend of reusing historical assets,” Burks said.
Environ has also helped revitalize the Arts Building, a 1930s structure with Art Deco-style reliefs and architecture at 236 E. 3rd St. The building that once housed a local newspaper printing press is now occupied by Cardinal Career College that provides private education courses and other services.
After designing the interior for the ground floor and basement with concrete-coffered ceilings and lighting effects, Environ is currently working on plans with van Dijs and the property owner to incorporate a European-style café and lounge. “We took advantage of the historic character of the building,” Burks said. “It’s a very nice space.”
Bohn said a lot of the shift in office space design has come from the fact that more buildings are being filled by small businesses, while traditional, large corporations are still in downsize mode. Boeing, for instance, is expected to vacate all of its office space near the Long Beach Airport by the end of the year.
In downtown, the goal is to attract small firms to an area with a wide range of both high-end and affordable housing and “urban amenities,” such as public transit access, entertainment and well-established restaurants. Such spaces provide the capabilities and the synergy for business expansion, job creation and for employees to “live and work” in Long Beach, he said.
“There’s been quite a shrinking of the corporate presence and . . . with all these start-ups and smaller firms . . . hopefully, one of these will be the next Google, or the next Apple, or any large firm that creates a tremendous amount of jobs,” Bohn said. “That’s why it’s important to make sure there are spaces like these in our city to help cultivate them and promote their growth.”
While Burks said more corporations are now stocking up on extra office space since rates and commercial property values remain low, he agreed that activity from small business is growing at a faster rate than from corporate tenants. In addition, he said most corporate offices are now geared toward “collaborative spaces,” where natural lighting is no longer relegated to just top-level management, but is being utilized by the entire office.
J.R. Pierce, a partner of Realm Group, LLC, which purchased the 200 Pine Ave. building in 2008, said the property owner’s original intention in investing nearly $4 million in renovations of the 70,000-square-foot mixed-use tower was to draw creative-type small businesses. “I wanted to provide a more modern, hip place . . . something that is more geared toward an urban feel,” he said.
Ignify, a technology and business-consulting firm, was one of the first to move in, relocating its 100 employees from Cerritos to an 11,000-square-foot space. Since then, the building has become 94 percent leased, Pierce said, with such new tenants as: Viomedios; PC Training; Excell Communications; Formula Drift and Street Surfing Worldwide, a developer, manufacturer and distributor of waveboards, skateboards and scooters.
“The type of tenant I was targeting was the creative type that wanted to be in a creative-type building,” he said. “Over the past few years, we have started attracting that type of tenant . . . Now that the economy is recovering, my original vision for that building has started to come to fruition.”
Pierce said renovations included a $1 million overhaul of the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, a remodeled lobby area and a “consistency of design and vision” throughout the building. Three restaurants now anchor the tower: Octopus Japanese Restaurant; Gaucho Grill; and, more recently, Agaves, all located on the bottom floor.
He hopes the momentum of growth and activity in the Downtown Long Beach area continues, with a mixture of business and entertainment, similar to San Diego’s Gaslamp District. “It’s just such a great value for the amount of money – for both housing and business space– I’m hoping that what we’re doing on the corner trickles through the marketplace,” Pierce said.
Burks pointed out that another movement in the office space market is converting retail properties that have remained vacant due to the stagnant commercial real estate sector into office spaces. The conversion often takes little to no zoning changes since office space requires less parking than retail, he said.
“There seems to be a glut of retail not only in Long Beach but all over Southern California,” Burks said. “Too many stores and too many shopping malls were built, I think, and now we’re seeing a conversion from retail to office.”
One example of this trend in East Long Beach is MemorialCare Medical Group signing an 11-year lease with the owners of the Los Altos MarketCenter to convert a 30,000-square-foot retail building, once occupied by the Borders bookstore chain, into an offsite, full-service medical clinic.
The healthcare provider is planning to completely renovate the building at 2110 Bellflower Blvd. with the latest medical office space designs, providing a more convenient, “café-like” or “hotel” experience for patients, while branching out from the typical hospital-anchored medical campuses, according to Karen Hayashibara, director of clinical business operations for MemorialCare Medical Group.
To be completed by the end of the year, the new medical offices, next door to a CVS Pharmacy, will provide 19 medical service providers, with primary care physicians and onsite urgent care, x-ray and laboratory services, she said.
Hayashibara said plans call for wireless Internet access in the lobby, express check-ins, self-serve kiosks, sustainable lighting and the latest medical technologies to provide an “efficient and convenient experience for patients” in the area.
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