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

Margie Manning



Westshore Marina District expects to incorporate more outdoor patio seating.

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.

Those design changes are among the trends leaders from the development firms talked about during an Aug. 11 panel discussion hosted online by commercial real estate publication Bisnow.

Here are some of the highlights.

Patios and lawns

Covid-19 has changed the retail landscape substantially, said Britney Mroczkowski, vice president of retail development at BTI Partners, which is developing the Westshore Marina District, off Westshore and Gandy Boulevards on Old Tampa Bay across from St. Petersburg.

Britney Mroczkowski

“I’m wondering if retail and restaurant spaces are going to get smaller and patios will get larger, which then could involve some patio rent, which we’re currently not charging but I could see that happening in the near future,” Mroczkowski said.

One of the freestanding restaurants at Westshore Marina District has been redesigned. The storefront now will have a rollup door to create the outdoor feel inside, she said.

BTI sold the land for a waterfront restaurant in the Westshore Marina District and is working with the owner to create a larger lawn area, for games, concerts and other outdoor activities.

“We didn’t plan on doing as large of a lawn there, but now we’re looking at all options for that,” Mroczkowski said.

The district also has two miles of trails. Mroczkowski designed many of the buildings to take advantage of those trails.

Package rooms

Square footage is at a premium within multifamily developments, so the location of fitness centers is key, said Eran Landry, vice president of development, North Florida, for Mill Creek Residential.

Eran Landry

“You want to balance providing enough amenity space indoors, but you’ve got to think about what’s critical to have indoors versus outdoors,” Landry said. “We’re fortunate in Florida. We can put some amenities outdoors and fitness is obvious. You can have cycling, stretch yoga with indoor/outdoor spaces off of gyms as opposed to having them confined to indoor spaces.” 

As more people work from home, work spaces within apartment homes also is critical, Landry said. Not only do the units have to be designed to accommodate a work space, but wifi and other technology need to be taken into account.

Covid-19 also has ratcheted up the use of online ordering, so Mill Creek’s new buildings will have larger package delivery centers.

“What this pandemic has shown is when you don’t have adequate programming around a package room, your concierge desk or your front door for guests becomes overrun,” Landry said. “We’ve been fortunate to make some smart decisions with our most recent development, Modera Central [a development in Orlando] which has a massive package room. One thing I would change is to integrate cold storage into that project. We did a substitute and added a refrigerator in there because more and more food is being delivered.”

The Orlando development also has a DGX — a Dollar General concept that offers a smaller retail footprint.

“It’s not a replacement for the traditional grocer, but it’s a convenience factor where you can get fresh produce and limited varieties of different things,” Landry said. “It’s been an advantage for us to have it on the ground, floor particularly when people don’t want to go far in the given circumstances.”

Air quality

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

Larry Feldman

“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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