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Developers Will Need Data, Commitment To Community In Post-Pandemic World

As the public health crisis continues to disrupt life across the globe, those who are creating built environments are considering how their developments can remain relevant and valuable into the future.

A rendering of Youngwoo's 2420 Amsterdam Ave. in Washington Heights, a development which is in an opportunity zone.

“People are looking more for place, and place is much more than a building ... It encompasses diversity, community — it encompasses connectivity,” Lendlease CEO of the Americas Denis Hickey said on Bisnow’s New York City mixed-use repositioning webinar last week.

“You are seeing the role of the landlord or owner now having to move outside the building … [and] participate in the wider community to really offer something that appeals to a broader market.”

The construction giant last year signed on to work on major Google developments in the San Francisco Bay Area for the next decade, and Hickey said both companies are now thinking hard about how flexibility and remote employees will be part of the workplace going forward.

The shift to working from home over the last six months has called the viability of office assets in question, shoppers’ accelerated retraction from brick-and-mortar locations has put retail under further stress, and the dearth of travel is jeopardizing many hotel businesses in tourist hubs like New York City.

Meanwhile, the disproportionate impact of the virus on minorities and heightened focus on racial injustice around the world is forcing communities to consider how to build cities that are more equitable. For developers of real estate, that means taking a sharp look at the kinds of offerings they are providing and how they can shift to keep up with a rapidly changing world.

“It’s definitely a wake-up call for developers to rethink our future real estate,” said Young Woo, the founder of Youngwoo & Associates, the company developing 2420 Amsterdam Ave. in Washington Heights, an office tower and hotel development that sits at 181st Street.

He said he was drawn to that type of development in that location because he realized there were 2 million Latinos in the city, with no major developers focusing on that group.

Clockwise from top left: Facilio founder Prabhu Ramachandran, Youngwoo & Associates principal Young Woo, Brooklyn Navy Yard Chief Development Officer Johanna Greenbaum, Lendlease CEO of the Americas Denis Hickey and BOS Development Managing Partner Beatrice Sibblies

“When we designed it, we worked with the community leaders and looked at, ‘How do you make it a kind of catalyst for the area,'" Woo said.

His firm is also co-developing Pier 57 with RXR Realty, where Google is leasing space. Woo predicted a village-like environment will be a prevailing trend for developments going forward.

Brooklyn Navy Yard Chief Development Officer Johanna Greenbaum said she describes the crisis as the “goodest, baddest time” — as it is forcing people to consider what is and is not needed in modern workplaces.

“There are some things we can’t live without, like collaboration with our colleagues,” she said.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard, which spans 300 acres on the Brooklyn waterfront and is home to 500 companies employing 11,000 people in buildings like Dock 72 and the Steiner Studios saw a dip in occupancy at the height of the pandemic, but the combined office and manufacturing hub is starting to see people return to work.

She describes the redevelopment of the former naval complex as “ahead of the game” because there is a vast mix of different companies across multiple industries, with a strong sense of community there was already established.

“Community is one of the reasons people came to the Yard in the first place," she said. "It’s foundational for us."

Throughout the worst of the crisis, companies at the Brooklyn Navy Yard began working together to create personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, and Greenbaum said businesses that hadn't even come across each other before began collaborating.

“There are things that can’t be replicated digitally," she said, but added, "People are not missing the commute or the downsides [of the office]."

Prabhu Ramachandran, the CEO of Facilio, which provides software for building management, said building owners are now making a greater investment in extracting data from their systems to make their operations more efficient.

Along with more of a data-driven approach, they are now increasingly considering how to operate their entire portfolio as one operation — rather than running each building in a silo.

“There is [also] a huge push for tech to help owners operate their buildings remotely, instead of going there, looking for ways that facilities teams can work remotely,” he said.

Hickey agreed more building technology is the future, and the industry has to become more insightful into how it is going to use information companies are now able to gather. 

“There is more data than there is the ability to analyze it," he said. "We've focused on capturing data ... [It's like] we’ve made the piano, but no one knows how to play it yet."