The Bentall Centre has been a defining presence in downtown Vancouver for more than 40 years, with four office towers and an underground retail complex occupying five acres on an entire city block.
“It is a very highly regarded asset, connected to rapid transit and highly leased to blue-chip tenants,” says Chuck We, senior vice-president, Western Canada, for Los Angeles-based Hudson Pacific Properties, which purchased the 1.4-million-square-foot property in partnership with Blackstone Real Estate in 2019. But, he adds with a laugh, “we endearingly refer to it as grandpa’s office space.”
No more. Over the past two years, managed by Hudson Pacific (noted for refurbishing commercial properties in California), the Bentall Centre has undergone significant upgrades to building sustainability and tenant amenities to refresh its appeal, post-COVID-19, as an office destination and venue for outdoor activities and entertainment.
The Bentall Centre is still iconic downtown. I think the old image would have been more corporate but now the new image is more forward-thinking, more attractive to a younger workforce and more social.
— Dan Jordan, senior vice-president of Colliers International, Vancouver
“The Bentall Centre is still iconic downtown,” says Dan Jordan, a senior vice-president of Colliers International in Vancouver. “I think the old image would have been more corporate but now the new image is more forward-thinking, more attractive to a younger work force and more social.”
The ongoing renewal of the four towers, built between 1967 and 1981, is taking shape under Hudson Pacific’s Better Blueprint strategy to implement environmental, social and governance practices across its portfolio for building sustainability, health and safety, and tenant and community impact. In 2020, the company achieved net zero carbon in all its operations and maintained that status last year.
“Investing in sustainability, health and equity, all three elements of the [Better Blueprint] platform, are key ways to differentiate a safe environment,” says Natalie Teear, Hudson’s senior vice-president of innovation, sustainability and social impact. “It is how you deliver quality.”
Some improvements occurred behind the scenes. In converting the Bentall Centre to 100-per-cent carbon neutral operations over the past two years, with some carbon offsets, Hudson Pacific used automated systems to optimize heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls. In “a big lift,” says Ms. Teear, thousands of top-rated air filters were installed to combat airborne viruses like COVID-19.
Other improvements became a showcase for best practices.
In renovating a 20,000-square-foot space for its regional office in one Bentall tower, Hudson Pacific looked for materials with low-embodied carbon to replace existing ceiling and floor tiles, yielding a 22-per-cent carbon reduction. Hudson Pacific published a guidebook on its experience for interested tenants.
The guidebook, among numerous Bentall Centre initiatives, led to a Canada Green Building Council excellence award for existing buildings this year.
“They not only identified embodied carbon as a priority for interior office renovation, which is completely atypical; they documented it and made sure they tracked things as they went,” says Mark Hutchinson, vice-president of the council’s green building programs and innovation. “It was above and beyond.”
He also highlighted Hudson Pacific’s holistic approach to sustainability practices that includes tenant amenities. For example, a former above-ground rooftop parkade at Bentall Centre became a dog park for up to 25 dogs and their owners. Two new rooftop beehives produce honey and a setting for tenants to learn about ecosystems. A high-end gym, installed for tenants only, adds to existing bike locker facilities (some free, some paid) upgraded with security, lighting and music.
“It feels safer and cleaner, and it is a more pleasant experience,” says bike-rider Elaine Chong, a principal with AES Engineering, a tenant since 2019.
A welcoming office environment begins when she arrives at her building, greeted by name by Hudson Pacific property management staff who circulate in the lobby. Through regular newsletters and a customized app, the landlord communicates with tenants on recycling and other office topics and provides information on outdoor activities curated by an events co-ordinator. Hudson Pacific refurbished public spaces around the towers, adding live music, food and craft beer kiosks on some evenings for tenants and visitors.
“Everyone was challenged through COVID, and we wanted to bring people together,” says Ms. Chong, a self-described “office mom” at AES. “It is so nice that our landlord is creating these events and it is so easy for us to tag along.”
Colliers’s Mr. Jordan says the amenity offerings influenced a decision this year by one client, the Bank of Montreal, to renew a long-term lease and add space in one tower.
“Tenant engagement and employee engagement have never been as important as now,” he says, predicting an “amenities arms race” among major building owners to coax employees back to the office.
“How as a landlord do you really differentiate against your competition?” asks Mr. Jordan. “One big way is to do that through your amenities offerings.”
As essential as amenities is landlord-tenant collaboration to reduce energy consumption and waste.
Like some major landlords, Hudson Pacific offers green leases, with cost-sharing provisions for efficiency upgrades to capital projects and extra charges for after-hours use of air conditioning.
Waste diversion is a focus for the landlord-tenant green team at the Bentall Centre, where the goal is to divert 90 per cent of waste from landfill by 2025, from 76 per cent currently.
In 2020, the green team hired the Vancouver-based Binners’ Project that serves people who have been traditionally marginalized, who redeem bottles and cans for income. During a five-week pilot, now permanent, the on-site recycling sorters at the Bentall Centre cut the amount of waste going to landfill by 28 per cent.
Given the improvements to date – and plans to renew the underground retail portion of the property – Hudson Pacific’s Mr. We says, “we are through the early innings of the ball game, with quick wins and elements to show people we are thinking differently about the Centre.”