By Jenn Danko
On select nights, Toronto’s MaRS Centre buzzes on the excitement of old-fashioned pub revelry. The 700,000 square foot mixed-used complex sprawls over lively College Street — and inside, many of its office, retail and laboratory tenants are found having an equally good time.
Here, Nina Gazoola, director of operations, MaRS Discovery District and member of the Building Owners Managers Association (BOMA), is busy scheduling one of the complex’s monthly pub nights — tailored for tenant-only attendance, of course.
"We set up a pub in the complex and invite all of our tenants to come down," says Gazzola, noting that food and beverages are catered on site and sold at reduced prices. There’s even a makeshift bar. "It really creates a feeling of community in the building."
Pub night is only one amenity that tenants at the MaRS Centre routinely enjoy. And for Gazzola, who says her complex maintains an average of 65 tenants at a given time, offering premier amenities has been an essential strategy for tenant retention.
"The recession makes tenant retention all the more important, and now more than ever we are finding that our tenants aren’t only looking at what their own units can offer them," Gazzola says. "They are looking at what’s happening around them and inside the rest of the building."
One of the most basic amenities — particularly on the residential side — is upkeep of common areas, including lobbies, laundry rooms and building systems, says Deborah Filice, president of the Institute of Housing Management in Toronto.
"Depending on the date of construction, amenity improvements wherever possible is a good way to make small changes that will have a long-term return on investment," she says.
But Gazzola says that for a property manager looking to maintain serious retention numbers, he or she must go beyond basic renovations — beginning with environmentally conscious amenities.
"The number one thing we are seeing from the commercial side is a much higher awareness from the conservation perspective," she explains.
And that awareness extends well beyond energy efficient building equipment, she adds. At the MaRS Centre, tenants have the option to participate in an organic recycling program within their own individual suites, and there is a building wide organics program in the common areas of the complex.
"It’s taking the recycling program beyond tin and paper and extending it to items like coffee grinds, tea bags — any wet food of that nature," Gazzola says. With organic recycling also a part of residential waste removal, many of MaRS tenants see the value of continuing such environmentally conscious practices in the workplace.
On the residential side, the bulk of desirable, green amenities still come in the form of a traditional washer and dryer; although Filice says the latest tenant wants are not-so-traditional.
"Gone are the days when a laundry dryer choice of ‘cotton’ or ‘permanent press’ is acceptable," she quips. "Residents today expect options including front load washers, the convenience of card systems and the ability to control temperature choices during drying cycles."
Beyond the usual energy efficient kitchen appliances and lighting, Filice adds that tenants are more likely to stay in buildings that have private security systems, scooter and bike storage facilities, marble and granite features, and clean, well-lit underground parking. An attached garage with an automatic door opener will also suffice, depending on the property.
Additionally, property managers on both sides are paying attention to the changing needs of their tenant bases. For commercial managers, on-site daycare is in high demand as the Baby Boomer population retires and 20- and 30-something workers rise through the corporate ranks with children of their own. For residential managers, outfitting units for tenants who want to age in place — such as installing grab bars or door levers instead of knobs — will be a smart way to keep your tenants renewing their leases in the coming years.
Above all, keeping tenants in a building is simply about making tenants feel good — or, at least giving them the option, especially after an event like the MaRS Centre’s pub night.
"One of the best amenities is having some kind of health facility available," Gazzola says. "It used to be that a gym membership was just enough; now tenants are talking about wellness centers and taking a more holistic approach to their well being."
And when it comes to tenant retention, property managers will certainly drink to that.