Big firms returning to downtown Portland office towers
Who will return to the office after COVID-19? And if that office is in downtown Portland, will downtown's other problems of garbage, aggression and closed storefronts keep white-collar workers away?
Moss Adams, an accounting, consulting, and wealth management firm, is betting on downtown. The firm recently re-upped its lease in the Fox Tower, where it has been based since 2004.
Steve Fein, a regional managing partner at Moss Adams, says the company, which leases almost 39,000 square feet in the Fox Tower, only ever had 60% of its staff in the office on a given day before the pandemic. It's in the nature of the work, a combination of quiet study, staff meetings and client visits (including networking), that every seat in Fox Tower is not full every day. Nor, since the discovery of Zoom-ing in from the bedroom or the beach house, is there top-down pressure to see every one of its 300 Portland employees every day.
Moss Adams management expects to have its office accessible to 50% of its staff by June, up from 25% recently.
"We've targeted September 7 for our being accessible up to 100%. So that's our target at this point," Fein told the Business Tribune last week. "Going forward, we anticipate that we'll be in a much more hybrid work model with more balance and flexibility than we've seen historically in our profession."
Fein said that the team is getting more interested in returning to the office, trying to balance safety with productivity.
He stressed that collaboration is important in his business. Being in the office is necessary, but forming a hybrid model will not happen overnight. "We are in the process of transitioning to that workforce and workplace model. I see a lot more flexibility in creating the schedule that works best for you."
He said they were laying out their office space, "To make sure that it's designed in a way that encourages and enhances that collaboration and interaction. This means we are able to adhere to safety protocols with plenty of space for our teams to spread out and to collaborate."
Downtown, where all the lights are bright
Fein said the fate of downtown Portland is partly in the hands of businesses such as Moss Adams, bringing daytime life back to the city and supporting businesses such as eateries.
"I think it's going to take a lot of collaborative effort between the public sector and the private sector," Fein said. "As a major employer in the downtown area, we feel part of our role in supporting that downtown environment and adding to that community is being a part of the collaboration and working with other businesses and the public sector to solve some of these challenging problems."
A big part of what they do in their office is "Training, development and relationship building. We have a lot of young professionals starting their careers, and it's super important that they have access and interaction with those with experience in the industry."
The client service experience is also critical to Moss Adams, and having access to their offices — and to the community — for relationship development and team collaboration is an important aspect.
"We serve the heart of the middle market businesses, their owners and executives," Fein said. "We also provide advisory, tax and accounting support, and wealth advisory to high-net-worth individuals and families as well."
The industry has proven that productivity can remain high in a remote environment.
"Some of the day-to-day tasks are best managed on your own and without distraction. It depends on how you work, the types of personality that every individual has, and people work best in different ways. So that's why we think the answer is balance and flexibility and unlocking the ways that you work best individually,"
"The downtown area continues to be a central hub for everything from business, social, recreational to cultural activity. That creates the engagement opportunities for people to come together in community."
Vanessa Sturgeon, CEO of TMT, said, "It's pretty humbling to see a company eager to stay in as large of a space as they're occupying after the year we all had. We love the Moss Adams team, and we've got a lot of gratitude for their renewal and continued partnership."
A return to the office
Vanessa Sturgeon is president and CEO of TMT Development which manages Fox Tower and Park Avenue West just across Director Park.
Of the Fox Tower, Sturgeon told the Business Tribune, "We're supporting tenants in coming back, and most have said they're coming back after Labor Day."
"Most of our tenants are not giving people the option. They're really expecting people to come back into the office, at least at a minimum, by the end of the year. They might have some flexibility with regard to work from home. But most of our tenants do expect people to return to the office."
Sturgeon said downtown Class A office availability is at 17.5%, which is high. In good times it is below 5%. She added that her tenants are not trying to negotiate reduced rent or square footage. They are keeping the same square footage so their staff can sit more than six feet apart to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The cost of remodeling offices or TI (tenant improvement) usually is negotiated between tenant and landlord, but in this case, it falls on the tenant.
"Furniture is not a landlord expense," said Sturgeon.
She said the Regal cinema was supposed to reopen on May 14, 2021, but that was delayed because Multnomah County failed to get their equity plan in on time for moving to the Low-Risk category. On May 26, cinemas in Multnomah County should be able to open to 50% capacity.
The Fox Tower had a succession of high-end restaurants on the second floor, including Harrison, Tondero, and the Ringside Fish House, until a couple of years ago when that space was taken first by Umpqua then Columbia State Banks.
Sturgeon herself has been going to the TMT office in Park Avenue west throughout the pandemic, as the most productive option.
"Property management is incredibly difficult to do from home," she said. "It requires eyes on your product. As our tenants start to come back, we need to be available to them. It's really about customer service."
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