After two years of working from home, the attraction of being able to work out at a gym again appears to be motivating people to return to the office.
“I had a member come in today who is about to take a leave and said, ‘I wish I wasn’t because I’ll miss being able to get to this gym every day,’” says Britt Hern, general manager of The Current fitness complex at CIBC Square in Toronto. “There are others who tell me they initially planned to come into the office two days a week, but now come in four or five days a week so they can use the gym.”
Open since February, the 14,000-square-foot fitness centre for employees at the new CIBC Square south tower is part of a trend that’s propelled fitness, wellness and end-of-trip bike facilities to the top of must-have lists for landlords, says David Hoffman, general manager of the two-tower, three-million-square-foot office campus south of Union Station being managed by Ivanhoé Cambridge Inc. and Hines. The facility includes change rooms and lockers for employees who cycle or run to work, with secure parking for 500 bikes.
“The pandemic confirmed our vision that workplaces that take into account all needs of occupants with a range of amenity offerings, including wellness and fitness, are the future of office buildings,” he says.
The Current’s designer, Gensler Architecture and Design Canada, is increasingly being asked for fitness and wellness in new and retrofitted buildings, says Joy Charbonneau, a design director at Gensler.
The prominent location of the fitness centre at the podium level of the building with its 20-foot-high ceilings led to a design that maximizes natural light, she says. “Most corporate or hotel gyms in the past have been in the basement or in tiny, windowless areas, but this space has floor-to-ceiling windows with incredible views.”
CIBC Square asked Gensler to create a high-end gym to inspire tenants, Ms. Charbonneau says.
“We had a mandate that we couldn’t use colours that would compete with the brands of companies that are tenants of the building, so we tried to make the most of a monochromatic palette and wrapped the walls of the entry pavilion and the fitness centre with maple, which is the material used for basketball courts, and made the floor darker, which creates an industrial vibe, but with a lot of polish to it at the same time.”
The expansive windows provide a panorama of the ever-changing skyline of downtown Toronto and the railways coming and going from Union Station.
There is a membership fee, which has been found to increase motivation for members to use the facilities, but it is subsidized by the building’s management. “We want to encourage health and wellness and make sure that all our building occupants are motivated to use this facility,” Mr. Hoffman says.
Gensler is currently in the process of designing another gym just as large for the north tower of CIBC Square that’s now under construction. That facility will cover two floors with an interconnected fitness and wellness centre.
A recent survey of commercial real estate markets across Canada by Avison Young suggests that clients are placing increased emphasis on office amenities that offer fitness and end-of-trip facilities, says Mark Fieder, president of Avison Young Canada.
“The office is moving beyond the paper-pushing environment of the past into a full community fostering engagement and collaboration. Research shows that workplaces that offer physical and cultural amenities will attract people to join and to stay with an employer.”
When it comes to activating space to bring employees back to the office and to attract new talent, the more amenities the better, he adds. Beyond wellness centres, food and hospitality play heavily into this opportunity: pizza days, education events and team celebrations.
“All the new developments we’re seeing in the Vancouver area are planning for that and a lot of existing buildings are repurposing some of their underutilized space to go higher end on wellness amenities,” says Dan Jordan, senior vice-president of office leasing at Colliers Vancouver.
A case in point is Marine Landing, a mixed-use office-industrial complex that’s just broken ground on Marine Drive in Vancouver.
Initially, the project didn’t include a gym, but developer Wesbild Holdings Ltd. added one after market research and focus groups with businesses within a five-kilometre radius of the complex pointed to a lack of fitness facilities nearby, says Brennan Finley, senior development manager for Wesbild. “We wanted to put in everything that you need: ellipticals, treadmills and free weights. And it’s acoustically designed to make sure that businesses aren’t affected by any noise in the room.”
Having the fully equipped 1,000-square-foot gym for use by tenants with facilities for cyclists has proved to be a key selling point. “We’ve had a lot of feedback from buyers who said they are attracted because of that feature,” Mr. Finley says. Once complete, Strata Property Management will take over the gym’s operation.
It’s not just fitness; office attractions extend to multipurpose amenity rooms that occupiers can book for a private event or meeting, that are otherwise open for shared lounge space, he adds. “We’re also seeing dog parks as a trend. Making offices dog friendly was happening before the pandemic, but a lot of people got puppies during the pandemic and demand has now accelerated.”
At Marine Landing there will be a 1,500-square-foot roof deck with space for outdoor games such as bocce and a barbecue area, with a separate space for a dog park. Meanwhile, in Vancouver’s central business district, Hudson Pacific, which owns the Bentall Centre’s four buildings, has made the whole complex dog friendly, with a dog park on the top of its multilevel parkade.
In what’s destined to be a continuing hybrid office market, adding fitness and recreation amenities checks all the boxes, Mr. Finley says. “As an investor, amenity space is an attraction to tenants; as an end user, you are trying to attract talent to your business, and employees want to have options. Building amenities puts building owners a step ahead in the recovery.”