Readying New NYC Office Complexes For COVID-Era Concerns

With COVID’s lethal second surge prompting more questions than ever about the future of the workplace, it’s instructive to note the pace of new office building construction has never faltered throughout the health and economic crisis. Nowhere is that more evident than in New York City, where from Midtown to Hudson Yards, Hudson Square and the Lower East Side, construction workers have continued to build office buildings, COVID or no.

Common to the new offices under construction are pandemic-era touches, including entirely customized and flexible HVAC systems, destination dispatch elevation, no-touch technology and other health and safety features intended to provide a sense of security. As well, many of these complexes’ settings appeal to folks who can walk or bike in from the same or nearby enclaves. All extras are intended to make tenants and office staff more comfortable with returns to the office.

“There is no question the office market is challenging right now,” says Matthew Weir, senior vice president, commercial asset management with Taconic Partners, among the developers of the two-building Lower East Side development Essex Crossing.

“The pandemic has shifted tenants’ perspectives, priorities and standards. It is going to be important for landlords to adapt to, and embrace, change and innovation. Office tenants’ pre-COVID preference for large, social experiences have shifted toward more exclusive environments as employers focus on health and safety. In addition, live-work-play neighborhoods, which have always appealed to tenants, have taken on a different context amid the pandemic, with some looking to avoid mass transit.”

Different submarkets

Among the new office buildings is Two Manhattan West, Brookfield’s new 2-million-square-foot office development, with Cravath the anchor tenant. It’s part of the 7-milllion-square-foot, master-planned development in the new Hudson Yards district.

Another example is 660 Fifth Avenue, also from Brookfield. A 1.4-million-square-foot office redevelopment in the Plaza District, it is the most significant redevelopment on Fifth Avenue to be undertaken this century. In a nod to pandemic-era sensibilities, tenants can choose between DX units and DOAS systems.

Yet another is 550 Washington Street, an Oxford Properties 1.3-million-square-foot office building featuring re-developed floors at the base, topped by new construction. Situated in the Hudson Square submarket featuring dramatic Hudson River views, the building was leased in its entirety last year by Google as part of its mushrooming West Side campus.

Entirely self-contained

Among the most high-profile office developments and, given COVID’s challenges, most nimble, is Essex Crossing. Located in the heart of the Lower East Side, one of New York City’s most fabled and distinctive enclaves, Essex Crossing is an entirely self-contained 1.9-million-square-foot campus providing the kind of unique and adaptable space many experts believe will be highly sought during and after COVID-19. The offices feature sprawling floorplates, outdoor terraces, open green space and direct walking and/or biking access to and from some of New York City’s most popular Millennial neighborhoods.

The expansive floor plates extend from 35,000 to 52,000 square feet in size, allowing flexibility and customization. A low-rise five-story building features private lobbies and elevator banks to permit maximum control of the environment.

State-of-the-art, tenant-controlled HVAC systems can accommodate use of ultraviolet light to thwart coil-borne and/or airborne mold, bacteria and germs. Upgraded cleaning specs ensure offices are maintained to the highest cleanliness standards.

In-office bike storage with showers and lockers and direct access to 13 on-campus Citibike stations will let office workers bike in five minutes from East Village, Nolita, Solo, Noho and Chinatown, eight minutes from Greenwich Village, Hudson Square and Tribeca and 11 minutes from such Brooklyn nooks as Dumbo and Williamsburg.

“The New York City office market is certainly evolving,” Weir says. “The Essex Crossing Offices are a prime opportunity for companies to create their new office norm, to continue to attract and retain the right talent.”