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Landscaping as a marketing tool.

In today's overbuilt office marketplace, landscaping has become a vital marketing-not just design-device, particularly in the "suburban downtowns" that have now captured the vast majority of office development in America. Indeed, several perceptive Southern California developers and managers have recently devoted up to 7 percent of their suburban office project budget to landscaping, and they have leased these buildings quickly and at top rents.

Mid- and high-rise suburban buildings pose considerable new challenges for developers, even though they have become an indispensable element of the office market-representing up to 90 percent of all new construction in some metropolitan areas. At present, these buildings face significantly higher office vacancy rates than comparable properties in traditional downtowns. And the new suburban office buildings are still evolving in size and form in response to higher land prices, sophisticated corporate tenants, and new zoning and slow-growth rules.

A well-planned landscape, therefore, can provide a critical marketing advantage for office developers and owners in attracting tenants and raising project value.

Why is landscaping a more important feature for suburban office buildings than for their downtown counterparts? Because suburban settings generally have a much higher ratio of open space to buildings than downtown developments, tenants expect a spacious and park-like image.

How can landscaping enhance suburban office buildings? First, it helps create an upscale business image suitable for regional offices and corporate headquarters.

A winning example

Consider the example of Irvine Center, the high-end, 440-acre complex within the 2,200-acre master-planned Irvine Spectrum business park in Orange County, California, being developed by the Irvine Company. At Irvine Center, which includes retail space and a proposed hotel as well as office buildings, well-chosen landscaping evokes a prestigious corporate image before most buildings have been completed. This could help attract corporate tenants at top rents in the project's earliest stages.

To set this upscale corporate tone at Irvine Center, the Irvine Company has issued comprehensive design guidelines for developers. As part of the landscape criteria, buildings cannot cover more than 50 percent of their sites, and landscaping must embellish at least 25 percent of each parcel.

To promote what the Irvine Company calls "a pleasing and unified environment within Irvine Center," the landscape criteria also require that developers install typically Southern California trees, shrubs, and ground cover throughout the project-plus consistent plantings around building perimeters, entry areas, and parking.

If a site borders any freeway, the developer must also line that perimeter with trees that screen the ground-level parking and service areas, but still showcase the buildings as a visual introduction to Irvine Center."

But the Irvine Company did not stop there. To enhance the project's appearance, the Irvine Company has landscaped the arterial roads which pass through Irvine Spectrum. Irvine Spectrum II, begun several years ago, is 90 percent built-out with approximately 7 million square feet of space.

Irvine also completely landscaped the 12 miles of roads in Irvine Spectrum's remaining phases, which are only 15 percent built-out at present. This landscaping is a good investment because it gives the entire project a business-like and finished appearance and shows prospective buyers and tenants that the managers care about the way their property looks.

In its roadside landscaping for Irvine Spectrum, POD, Inc., a California-based landscape architecture firm, lined each side of the arterial streets with a three-foot-tall berm, which is covered with grassy lawn and topped with a ligustrum hedge. During the early phase of Irvine Spectrum's development, the berm and hedge blocked the sight of construction and vacant lots from the road. At build-out, the landscaping will provide a welcome acoustical and visual buffer between the offices and traffic.

To strengthen Irvine Spectrum's high-end identity and provide welcome visual focal points, mature palms and other trees stand at project entrances and major intersections inside.

This landscape plan is an important element in the company's success in quickly establishing the center as an upscale corporate location. Mazda already occupies its five-story regional headquarters. AT&T is building its 14-story regional headquarters. Western Digital has purchased the land for its 800,000-square-foot world head-quarters.

Upgrading a site

Landscaping can also give a moderate-cost industrial or office park a more upscale image, which will attract high-quality tenants at present and give the complex the flexibility of reaching a higher and better all-office use in the future. This strategy is particularly useful for developers who are using economical "tilt-up" construction for two-story buildings and want to give these structures the look of more expensive "glass box" office buildings.

Consider the San Diego Business Park in south San Diego County's Costa Mesa section, adjacent to the U.S.-Mexico border. On this 80-acre site, California Structures has already built 800,000 square feet of tilt-up facilities for manufacturing/warehouse operations, with administrative and engineering office support. The project will eventually total 1.3 million square feet.

The San Diego Business Park has far from the cheapest rents in the area, but their success shows that Fortune 500-type manufacturing tenants are willing to pay a premium for corporate-quality industrial park space. Tenants include Sanyo, which manufactures refrigerators in a 324,000-square-foot facility; Sanyo's Phase 2, which will I expand their complex to 750,000 square feet; Maxell America, in a highly automated 108,000-square-foot facility; and Sherwood Medical (a subsidiary of American Home Products), in a 210,000-square-foot facility for manufacturing medical equipment.

The landscape plan created a welcoming front door for the San Diego Business Park with grassy berms and a formal allee of Bradford pear trees. Beyond the entrance, the project maintains a handsome appearance through tree-lined streets, more clustered trees, and occasional flower beds. Parking lots are screened from the street by evergreen shrubs. The grounds of each tenant's facility has its own landscape plan in order to enhance its distinct corporate identity and provide pleasing outdoor spaces for its employees.

Landscaping has established a corporate business park image at the San Diego Business Park. Taking space in the San Diego Business Park assists tenants in

establishing their own high-quality image. Everyone that they do business with-from vendors providing sub-assemblies to end users buying the finished product-sees this commitment to quality every time they visit the facilities.

This corporate business park image has helped attract Fortune 500-type manufacturing tenants. In the long run, it also gives the park flexibility to rise to higher and better use-from its present manufacturing function with some office space, to a greater degree of office/technology use, to a nearly complete garden office park.

A part of the neighborhood

Among its other benefits, landscaping can also make an office project more acceptable to residents of neighboring areas. This strategy gives the developers an important advantage in today's slow-growth era.

At Park Del Amo Business Center in Torrance, California, Trans Pacific Development wanted to build two three-story 100,000-square-foot office buildings, as part of a planned project with a total of seven buildings. Before granting necessary building permits, the City of Torrance negotiated a development agreement with Trans Pacific, and its terms included the use of extensive landscaping at the site.

Park Del Amo's landscaped entrance and the courtyard between the two completed buildings create the right business image for the project and make a positive first impression on visitors. Equally important, the two completed buildings are set back from the project property line a minimum of 30 feet and partially concealed from neighboring residences by a grassy berm. Several hundred eucalyptus, ficus, plum, willow, and pine trees in this buffer zone also screen the buildings from neighbors' view.

The park-like setting is a popular amenity for Park Del Amo's office workers, and this is an important consideration for companies looking for office space. Most want a comfortable work environment as a way of keeping and attracting skilled employees who are paying more attention to quality of life issues at the workplace.

The office leasing market has responded favorably to Park Del Amo's landscaping and other amenities. Trans Pacific's project is renting at a much faster rate than comparable projects in the overbuilt central Torrance market. One building is 90-percent rented; the other is more than half leased.

Bringing it all together

Among its other advantages, landscape architecture also visually unites several building business complexes and establishes a strong project identity, which is crucial for developers who are pioneering mid- or high-rise office construction in a suburban area.

At Koll Center Irvine/Phase 1, the Koll Company built four high-rise office buildings totaling 646,000 square feet, plus three restaurants and a hotel, in an area of Irvine previously dominated by low-rise industrial buildings.

When planning this complex in 1980 and 1981, Koll recognized this site's advantages: proximity to Orange County Airport, an established upscale office district, and California's busiest shopping center on the other side of the nearby 405-Freeway. But Koll also recognized that the area near the airport still conveyed an industrial or low-cost office image, and their target market was the major corporations and professional firms that were serving Orange County's rapidly growing population and economy.

Koll faced. the challenge of establishing a Class-A office environment in an area where none existed. They did not want another collection of office buildings, but aimed for an environment for excellence.

Landscaping was a vital part of achieving that goal. Out of the total budget for the project, over 7 percent was devoted to landscaping. Eleven acres of the overall 31-acre site were set aside for landscaped or water features.

Koll Center Irvine's focal point is a plaza with flowering trees and shrubs, lawns, and a brook emptying into a small lake. The plaza's central element is a fountain with water jets shooting eight feet into the air, which can be easily seen from the nearby street. At night, the brightly lit fountain forms a pyramid of white water and serves as a dramatic entry marker for patrons of the three restaurants on the site.

Landscaping also solved another problem with the site: Koll Center Irvine is divided by a major boulevard, with two office buildings on one side of the street and two on the other. The solution was to plant a contiguous grove of tall palm trees on each side of the boulevard, visually linking the two halves of the project.

When it came onto the market, Koll Center Irvine was an immediate success, renting faster and at higher rates without concessions. The pioneering project was partly responsible for the rapid transformation of the area from an industrial and tilt-up warehouse district into a higher and better use as a leading business center.

Koll's reputation, the building designs, and the area's inherent advantages contributed to Koll Center Irvine's success. The landscaping was also a major factor. The landscaping conveyed an elegant, clean-cut, and professional look-setting a standard for the many office complexes which have since risen nearby.

Joseph Yee is a partner at POD, a landscape architecture firm with offices in Los Angeles and Santa Ana, California.

A Novel Look for Parking Lots Look out the window, and what do most downtown office tenants see? An uninspiring view of other office buildings, parking lots, and multi-story parking structures. With so much of the cityscape devoted to asphalt and automobiles, how can we make these parking lots and structures more "viewer-friendly"?

One solution is landscaping, but this can be impractical or prohibitively expensive, particularly for above-ground parking structures. That is why POD, Inc. is proposing a simple, inexpensive, and effective alternative: transform these asphalt acres into "asphalt art." How? By painting the pavement with trompe l'oell murals that incorporate parked cars into their design. This art form can be used on both surface lots and the open top decks of multi-story parking structures.

The resulting "asphalt art" murals provide a more pleasant-even humorous-roofscape view for workers in nearby office towers, and offer a distinct leasing attraction for that space. Rather than a sea of concrete and cars, office tenants look down on one of several wry comments on suburbia.

The renderings shown here were prepared for a parking structure under construction in Los Angeles' Century City office district. One asphalt art mural repeats the aerial view of nearby West Los Angeles neighborhoods: each parking space represents a suburban homestead complete with a house, a swimming pool, and clipped hedges. Another mural looks closer at a single suburban backyard; the parking structure's ramp is transformed into a blue swimming pool-complete with floating life preserver-with towels and a striped umbrella laid out alongside.
COPYRIGHT 1990 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on parking lots
Author:Yee, Joseph
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Previous Article:Analyzing property management performance.
Next Article:The hold-sell decision.

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