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Care, consistency and communications describe successful high-rise facility management

The role of property management in high-rise office buildings is essential in a cyclical economy. When the economy fluctuates, property management must remain strong to keep the building a notch above the rest. The stability of a high-rise office tower as an asset is determined by the performance of building management and the retention of tenants.

Building management can assure that the conditions in which tenants conduct their business is optimal, thus allowing the tenant to concentrate on its core goals without distraction.

A Class A high-rise can be best compared to a city. The property management team's role would be equivalent to that of the city mayor or manager. The main goals of any "city" are the health and safety of its citizens, and all rules and regulations stem from this basic concept. In the same sense, the property management team seeks to protect tenants through building maintenance, as well as to educate, coordinate and accommodate them through awareness or responsiveness to issues. Responsiveness is particularly key -- awareness certainly is important, but it must be coupled with immediate response to the tenant's needs.

Downtown San Diego's largest Class A high-rise building, Symphony Towers, is an icon due to its architecture, location and mixed-use attributes. The towers encompass a Sheraton Suites Hotel, Copley Symphony Hall, the University Club and an elevated parking structure -- all on a single city block.

When Symphony Towers opened on downtown's B Street Financial Corridor in 1989, there were four Class A high-rises in the works representing about 2 million square feet of new space. Although the regional economy was still strong, we were not without competition. We knew from day one that we had to be committed to constant and consistent communications with tenants -- existing and proposed -- and that we had to deliver exceptional service.

From the communications perspective, we initiate personal calls, visits, memos, special events and now, e-mails. As both the management and the tenants of the building have repeatedly experienced, open lines of communication are extremely important. From the service perspective, we adopted our fast response procedures and continue to seek out the best professionals to provide service to our tenants.

Service above and beyond tenants' expectations does not always register on the day-to-day "radar screen." It is in times of crisis -- for instance, last year's energy crisis and in the wake of the tragic events of Sept. 11 -- that tenants truly understand and appreciate immediate, proactive response and thorough, open communications. Attentive and prompt communications are important -- particularly when we communicate proactive steps that are taken on behalf of the building's "city," as well as options that individual tenants may take for themselves.

We knew we had to be equally proactive in communicating with tenants and responding quickly to their needs. Because we have trained ourselves for immediate attention and rapid response to our tenants, and long ago implemented constant, open communications, our established procedures worked admirably in keeping everyone informed on what was being done in response to the conditions at hand.

For example, following Sept. 11, tenants were naturally interested in our emergency responsiveness: Those tenants who happened to come to their offices early on Feb. 2 witnessed the San Diego Fire Department practicing its high-rise emergency response at Symphony Towers.

The national economy has definitely slowed down over the last 18 months. While San Diego was not affected to the extent of several other major cities, it has not been immune to fallout from a recession. Allan Arendsee of A.W. Arendsee Real Estate, who handles the leasing in Symphony Towers, has referred small-space users to tenants with available sublease space. This also contributes to the tenants' satisfaction and communication with the building.

Architecture, interior design and technology are already in place; what is left to outperform other buildings in the market is the role of property management. The key to success in attracting and retaining tenants is through consistent care and how this is communicated.

Vivanco, RPA, is vice president/portfolio manager for StepStone Real Estate Services and the on-site manager of Symphony Towers. She can be reached at (619) 231-7712 or jillv@stepstonerealestate.com.

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