Q&A: American Real Estate Partners Takes Steps to Welcome Back Workforce

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American Real Estate Partners (AREP), which owns such properties as 1625 Eye Street in Washington, D.C., 2000 15th Street in Arlington, Va., and Highline at Greensboro District in Tysons, Va., is getting its buildings ready to welcome tenants back to their offices.

The McLean, Va.-based AREP has undertaken an unprecedented rapid response to have its entire portfolio, sized at more than 10 million square feet, verified for meeting standards for indoor health and wellness by UL, a leader in  safety certification services. 

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The company has instituted measures ranging from electrostatic cleaning to boosting exterior air settings from 20 percent to 40 percent. At 1625 Eye, the firm is busy with a rooftop renovation that will create new spaces for outdoor work. 

Paul Schulman, American Real Estate Partners’ principal and chief operating officer, spoke with Commercial Observer about the safety renovations being done and why these projects will help workers to trust going back to their offices. 

Commercial Observer: How would you characterize the state of people returning to their offices as we head towards mid-March? What are you seeing in D.C.?

Paul Schulman: As the vaccine rollout continues, we are seeing more companies planning their return to work. We know that tenants want to be back at work to collaborate, socialize and connect. Most are looking at either a hybrid approach and/or making improvements to their space. We’re working with each of our tenants to help them develop plans that work best for their organizations and comfort level, and that facilitate the collaboration and connection they seek.

What steps have you taken to ensure that buildings are ready to be occupied?

AREP is going beyond the expected to assure the wellness, health, connectivity, and confidence about the 2021 workplace. As companies get ready to come back to the office, our workplaces are ready for the new and shifting normal.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, we undertook an unprecedented rapid response to meet the challenges that COVID-19 created. These protocols, procedures and investments enabled us to further enhance our health and safety protocols to be best-in-class, which subsequently included being the first commercial real estate company in the U.S. to have its entire 10-million-plus-square-foot portfolio verified by UL Industries, achieving their Healthy Buildings mark. The UL Verified Healthy Building program affirms AREP’s commitment to provide interior spaces that are healthy environments for indoor air quality. We are also pursuing a portfolio-wide IWBI WELL Health-Safety rating, as well as Fitwell healthy building certifications for several properties.

Additionally, a number of assets in the AREP portfolio achieved WiredScore certification for future-ready, secure internet connectivity and infrastructure that supports new and anticipated technologies, such as 5G, and further enhances tenant engagement and seamless connectivity in and around the building. The speed and security of the data infrastructure take on even greater importance in a hybrid work environment.  

Lastly, we have rolled out a robust WELL AP and Fitwell Ambassador [which focuses on wellness metrics] credentialing program for our property management team, which not only reinforces our commitment to health and wellness, but also ensures that we continue to utilize proven experience and expertise in creating and operating healthy environments. 

What sort of renovations and safety measures have you enacted?  

Our portfolio covers the mid-Atlantic region, from North Carolina and the entire [D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area] to suburban and Downtown Philadelphia. Specific health and safety measures across the portfolio include expanding our rigorous cleaning protocols to include electrostatic cleaning; increasing outside air flow, elevating exterior air settings from 20 percent to 40 percent to maximize HVAC exchanges of fresh air; increasing filtration to MERV 13; adding UV light and negative ion technology air purifiers in elevator cabs; upgrading to touchless throughout the properties; and piloting more extensive air filtration infrastructure, such as bipolar ionization.  

The signature element of every AREP reposition and renovation is to amplify the balance of nature, leveraging outdoor space to create a holistic workplace with curated amenities that intelligently address the needs of our customers and the expectations of the market. Our goal is to transform our buildings into places that actively promote wellness and connection — from building design and operation through to customer experience with hyper-local amenity programming.

Specifically, with 1625 Eye Street in D.C., what’s been done?

The indoor air quality measures were completed at 1625. The building has a WiredGold score to ensure seamless connectivity throughout the building, which is particularly important as customers are looking for more flexible breakout spaces. We are underway on a lobby and rooftop renovation to enhance this iconic building. The renovation centers on AREP’s vision of hospitality and the importance of art. It includes a specially commissioned, dramatic new light fixture in the lobby, and reconfiguring the lobby layout to elevate the welcome experience. On the rooftop, we are creating an exciting outdoor space for work and socializing against the backdrop of 1625’s unbeatable city views.

Can you talk about some of your other properties in the D.C. region and what’s ahead for them.

2000 15th Street North in Arlington, Va., has the largest, private outdoor plaza of any office building in the Rosslyn/Ballston corridor. When complete in the third quarter, the property will offer activated indoor/outdoor social spaces that leverage views of the D.C. skyline, flexible conference facilities, and a state-of-the-art fitness center, connecting tenants and visitors to the abundant outdoor space.

For Rosslyn City Center (RCC) in Rosslyn, Va., AREP is commissioning locally based and globally renowned No Kings Collective to create a signature mural of the side of the building. RCC’s offerings also include world-class, hospitality-oriented amenities, such as a signature food-and-beverage experience from renowned hospitality powerhouse David Morton and his DMK team, and a state-of-the art Gold’s Gym. Both will have ample outdoor space that further enhance the experience of RCC’s customers and visitors, as well as the overall Rosslyn community.

Why is it so important to make changes like these?

The pandemic has heightened our awareness of physical and mental health at work. With the ability to work remotely, people need a strong reason to come to the office. As companies plan the return to work, they need to make their employees feel comfortable and confident about being in the office. As a building owner and operator, we play a vital role in creating that confidence. We go beyond the expected, so that our tenants have workplaces where their employees want to be and feel good about being there. These changes support a return to work, a return to our new normal. 

Will some of these measures go away as the pandemic winds down and things get back to normal, or do you think these are here to stay? 

Before the pandemic, there was a push toward workplace wellness. Now, people understand the connection to, and importance of, environments that promote health and well-being, and that is not only going to stay but will increase. Connectivity and data security will continue to be a huge issue as well.