Pandemic prompts local real estate developers to look at patios, package rooms

By Margie Manning St Pete Catalyst

Design changes are among the trends leaders from development firms talked about during an Aug. 11 panel discussion hosted online by commercial real estate publication Bisnow. The Covid-19 pandemic has put an increased focus on using outdoor spaces, and real estate developers are adapting their designs to take that into account.

Feldman Equities, which owns three Class A office buildings in downtown St. Petersburg, is expanding its “chill zones,” which are indoor/outdoor gathering spaces. Mill Creek Residential, which is building Modera Tampa, a mixed-use luxury apartment and retail development in downtown Tampa, is putting more fitness spaces outdoors. Westshore Marina District, a 52-acre master-planned community in south Tampa, is making more patio space available for its restaurant tenants.

Air quality

Feldman Equities’ Sarasota City Center has a large courtyard with comfortable seating, wifi and a cappuccino machine.

“We call those chill zones and we’ll be expanding those somewhat,” said Larry Feldman, president and CEO. “But there’s no getting away from the fact that office buildings primarily are an indoor format. So we’re working with new technology to make the air cleaner and safer.”

The company is installing an ionization system in the ductwork of the Wells Fargo Center, a 400,000-square-foot office tower in downtown Tampa.

“These systems simulate what happens in a lightning and thunderstorm. What’s happening is the air is being charged with ions and its killing microbes. This system effectively imitates nature,” Feldman said.

The system costs $300,000 to install but will have a lasting value, he said.

“That building has a value in the ballpark of $100 million, because it’s a 95 percent leased building. If we don’t do these things, the value of that building could drop by 30 or 40 percent, as vacancies increase. So we have no choice but to do those things,” Feldman said. “Even post-Covid, we are going to have a healthier building and it’s the antithesis of what you’ve heard of in the past, which are sick buildings. So we’ll have a leasing benefit well beyond Covid.”

Feldman also is putting UV lights in a concealed box above the elevators to kill the virus in that confined space, and is looking at elevator buttons, made by NanoSpectic, that automatically self-clean themselves.

“We are working on a lot of touchless doors and faucets. Those are things we’ve had in the buildings for quite a while, and to the extent we don’t have them we’re putting in touchless faucets throughout,” he said.

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