All the Right Moves
The Occupancy Rate Is Rising at One Financial PlazaSteve Roy says that he and other managers of GZA GeoEnvironmental probably looked at more than 20 locations across Western Mass., more than a third of them in Springfield, after the company decided it needed to relocate from its long-time home on Main Street in East Longmeadow.
There were several factors that led to that decision, said Roy, office manager for the local office and a principal with this corporation that has sites up and down the East Coast and as far west as Milwaukee. Chief among them was the desire to be much more visible, he told BusinessWest, but the company also needed some room to grow, and wanted an easier, quicker commute for its 20 employees.
And, like most businesses looking at their space options, GZA wanted an attractive lease deal, one that would enable it to upgrade to better quarters.
In the end, the company was able to draw lines through all those stated wants and needs with a decision to move to One Financial Plaza, a.k.a. 1350 Main St., a.k.a. the Sovereign Bank Building. It should be in its new space on the 14th floor sometime next month. “It’s a move that just makes good sense for us,” said Roy.
Thus, GZA joins a number of companies who have said essentially the same thing, and are therefore helping to turn lights on across some floors that have been dark at One Financial Plaza for several years now.
Evan Plotkin, a principal with NAI Plotkin and co-owner of floors 6-17, said a number of new tenants have been added over the past few years, and there could be more in the pipeline for early next year.
With the recent addition of GZA (taking 7,106 square feet) and BMC HealthNet Plan (12,445 square feet), the occupancy rate in the tower will reach 62%, compared to 39% when the upper 12 floors were purchased in 2007. Overall, 138,089 square feet will be occupied, compared to 86,046 square feet two years ago.
A tenant’s market and the resulting attractive lease rates and amenities, coupled with high occupancy rates in most all other Class A buildings, in both downtown Springfield and area suburbs, have certainly contributed to the increasing popularity of One Financial Plaza, but Plotkin would like to believe there are other reasons.
He told BusinessWest that he’s worked hard to create an environment that businesses want to be in. Efforts have included everything from revitalizing the ornamental fountain along the Court Square side of the property to the rotating art exhibits in the front lobby and other common spaces in the building, to the rack of umbrellas available to tenants who find themselves on the wrong end of unpredictable New England weather.
“We’re creating positive experiences for people,” he said, “and I think this is putting our building into a class all its own.”
Joe Gaffney told BusinessWest that he’s had a lot of visitors to BKM Total Office’s space on the 11th floor of One Financial Plaza since the company moved in last April. Some had scheduled appointments, but many just dropped in, he said, to look around what isn’t exactly a product showroom, per se, but rather an office equipped with the very latest office furniture and accessories.
“I call it the ‘work area of the 21st century,’” said Gaffney, vice president of Sales for BKM, as he pointed out things such as the latest in work stations — minus the high cubicle walls — and something called the media:scape, a product designed to enable people to more easily share ideas through state-of-the-art technology. Many people working in One Financial Plaza, but also others from neighboring buildings in downtown Springfield, have come to see and hear about these products, he said, adding that this wasn’t exactly predicted, nor was it among the stated reasons for moving to the tower from a site on Interstate Drive in West Springfield.
Among the motivations that were on that list was a desire to upgrade to something more contemporary — “the place we were in was stale” — as well a need for more efficient space (the company actually went from 3,000 square feet to 2,000 and has plenty of room) and a real desire to be downtown, a departure from the trend of recent years.
“I’m in the habit of supporting hubs — I want to be where the hub of business is,” said Gaffney, adding that he finds himself in downtown Springfield often for business and networking meetings, and decided it made good business sense to slash his commute times.
BKM is one of several companies and agencies that have made 1350 Main their new mailing address over the past year or so. Others include MassDevelopment; the law firm Minnoff, Parish, and Greenhut; the U.S. Government; Cannex Financial Exchanges Ltd.; attorney Daniel Szostkiewicz; Milone & MacBroom; a consulting firm providing civil-engineering, planning, landscape-architecture, and land-survey services; and O&G Industries, a construction-services company.
In total, a dozen or so new tenants, including GZA and BMC HealthNet, will absorb 52,043 square feet. That leaves another 82,491 still dark, but Plotkin says he has a strong prospect sheet and sees many reasons for optimism. For starters, there’s the building’s high retention rate among tenants approaching the end of their leases, including Disability Management Services, which occupies 43,000 square feet.
Meanwhile, Plotkin says he’s witnessing companies moving from the suburbs — and even Northern Conn. — into downtown Springfield, something that wasn’t happening a few years ago. And he’s also hearing a number of positive comments from tenants, even about the parking, or perceived lack thereof.
“We’re seeing companies like GZA coming downtown from places like East Longmeadow,” he said. “I think it’s very encouraging when you see things like that happening. And while I think location is certainly part of the reason, what we’ve been able to do with this building is also a big factor.
“I think this building is now in a class of its own by virtue of the service level we offer,” he continued. “One of the things that I said right from the beginning when I invested in this property is that we had to assemble the best management team that we could. And we have, and that’s because I knew that the biggest risk that I had here wasn’t so much whether I could lease up the building — I knew I could do that — but keeping the ones that we had.”
But Plotkin knows there is still considerable work to do to fill vacant space across several floors of the tower. He said he intends to be aggressive in marketing the space, adding new amenities such as valet parking to address that nagging concern among some prospective tenants, and continue to look for ways to add value to the equation.
The umbrellas are a simple example of such value adding, he said, adding that other, more elaborate efforts include plans for what he called a ‘high-tech conference room’ to be made available to tenants as well as businesses across the region, more art exhibits, and additional events, or “happenings,” as Plotkin called them, aimed at bringing tenants together.
Over the past few years such events have ranged from music programs to an appearance from the Zoo at Forest Park’s Zoo on the Go, to a program featuring exotic birds.
“The plaza here is a place where people come together,” he said. “It’s a whole different feel, and people want that. They like seeing other people around; it feels safe, it feels comfortable, it’s enjoyable on a beautiful day.”
There are still a number of dark floors at One Financial Plaza — nearly 40% of the building remains unoccupied.
But little by little, a few thousand square feet at a time, the tower is gaining new tenants and additional vibrancy.
In short, more people are coming to the same conclusion as Steve Roy — that this mailing address simply makes good sense.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]