Huntington Center

Transforming Core for the Future

The owners of Huntington Center faced a situation increasingly common among today’s real estate investors: they owned the premier downtown office tower, but the march of time threatened to unseat their asset’s enviable position in the market as the definition of core evolves. According to CoStar, some 75% of all U.S. office stock is more than 20 years old. Huntington Center was now in its third decade.

In 2012, Carlton Associates took a two-thirds interest in the Columbus, Ohio, property, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and completed in 1984, sharing ownership with Hines and two other partners. “They came in with the idea that they were acquiring a best-in-market asset,” explains Dan Eifert, vice president of property management at Hines. The 37-story office tower across the street from Capitol Square is positioned directly on the center line of the capitol building. “No other building has a comparable location. It commanded top-of-the-market rents and strong tenancy, and it had some vacancy with potential to capture upside from new leasing.”

Despite its premier status, Huntington Center faced new rivals in a booming market. New multifamily and office construction in neighborhoods adjacent to Columbus’ CBD provided supply competition, drawing tenant interest with amenities that appealed to a modern workforce—a key factor in today’s market where attracting and retaining talent is top-of-mind. “The building was not competing at the highest level for potential tenants who instead chose submarket locations,” says Eifert. “The trend was becoming clear.”

The Hines team drew from the firm’s global strategy to address the competition, future proof the core asset and skillfully deploy capital to get the best return while bringing Huntington Center up to current core Class AA standards. Although building systems and common space interiors would receive updates, the plan was to deliver an unprecedented experience for Huntington Center’s tenants, their employees and their customers.

Applied Experience

Drawing on its experience in unlocking new value in aging core building stock, Hines determined that creating vibrant and inviting public spaces, historically associated with hospitality or residential properties, would be critical to Huntington Center’s continued relevance. “Our focus was strengthening a culture of human interaction,” says Tyler Steele, Hines’ general property manager for Huntington Center. “We knew that connection among the people who use our building was very important to our tenant base, and we needed to make sure it would continue to happen.”

We are able to draw on past successes to realize leasing velocity, rental-rate growth and percentage of renewals that we expect to make in repositioning core assets.

Dan Eifert, Vice President, Property Management, Hines

Hines’ vertically integrated services, longevity in the industry, and activity in markets around the world provided not only the inspiration for Huntington Center’s transformation, but the authority that engendered confidence among its investors. “We draw on past successes to realize leasing velocity, rental-rate growth and percentage of renewals that we expect to make in repositioning core assets,” says Eifert. “We increase revenue for building owners by projecting that kind of thinking onto an aging asset that needs a refresh.”

Hines identified a staid entrance and lobby as one focus of renovation and proposed activating rooftop space on the building’s penultimate floor as part of a plan to create an expansive tenant amenity. Carlton and the other investors agreed, and in 2016 they secured a $140 million refinance of the property in order to reinvest $16 million in the reimagination.

Highly Amenitized Workplace

Today, Huntington Center vibrates with activity. “That building has always had a kind of a hum about it when you walked into the lobby,” says Michael Copella, managing director at CBRE’s Columbus office. “But now, it’s an audible buzz. You see more interaction with what they've done from a design standpoint and how they were really thoughtful with layering in the amenities of the building.”

The lobby features two two-story living walls—among the largest in the United States. Covered in 8,500 individual plants and containing 350 gallons of water, the living walls are punctuated by six inset banquettes that make up one of the new areas created to facilitate tenant collaboration.

“We’ve changed the streetscape, the processional and the lobby experience to be more responsive and inviting,” says Steele. “The green walls flanking the entry escalators offer this massive injection of nature, and a 10-story atrium opens above as you proceed into the building where there's a highly sculptural polished-brass concierge desk. It creates a sense of arrival, not unlike a boutique hotel lobby.”

At the top of the building the upgrades are just as striking. The long-vacant 36th floor was converted to an amenity space branded “The Horizon.” Ample seating, a bar, and four flexible conference rooms make up a 4,000-square-foot lounge available exclusively to tenants.

Rent is still a part of the leasing conversation, but it's become more about ‘what can this building do for my company to help me attract and retain great people.’

Michael Copella, Managing Director, CBRE

Outside of The Horizon is a rooftop terrace with resort-style seating and the best views of downtown Columbus and the Scioto riverfront. Perched more than 500 feet above ground, the terrace is the largest of its kind to be constructed at that height; users are sheltered from high winds by an engineered glass and metal wind wall.

Return on Investment

“Huntington Center probably has the most embedded amenities inside an asset, from one of the best local coffee shops on the ground floor to an impressive rooftop experience,” says Copella. “It’s those touches that I think really add up to an overall elevated tenant experience.”

Tenants report high usage of the common areas. “In the summer, I’ll go out on the terrace in the morning and answer emails,” says Bill Nolan, managing partner for Barnes & Thornburg LLP, a longtime tenant. “I’ve also had plenty of meetings with people from outside the firm up on 36. I also like that you can get your coffee on the street level and take it up to the seating area on the gallery level. We do that a lot.”

Early lease renewal inquiries indicate the refurbishment has stemmed tenant attrition. “Rent is still a part of the leasing conversation, but it’s become more about ‘what can this building do for my company to help me attract and retain great people,’” says Copella. “That's where the Huntington Center really stands out above its competition.”

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