Aging office buildings aim to recapture their youth

By Nancy Sarnoff (as appearing in Houston Chronicle)

Architectural renderings illustrating renovations planned for Marathon Tower, a vintage 1980s Galleria-area office building, show an airy, light-filled lobby with gleaming white walls, a coffee bar and a giant video screen displaying news and other digital content. The scene contrasts with what’s there now: dark accents, hard benches and chunky granite plant boxes that provide little use other than serving as a reminder of the bygone design trends that define the building.

Its owner, M-M Properties, recently announced plans to spend some $18 million to renovate the aging office tower — and with good reason. The 41-story building’s main tenant is moving out, and attracting another big company would be a daunting task without a makeover.

“When we finish this, we’ll have all the features of new construction,” boasts Kenneth Moczulski, chief executive of Houston-based M-M Properties, owner of the building at 5555 San Felipe. The tower was developed in 1983 for Marathon Oil, which is moving out at the end of 2021 into a new building on the west side.

M-M Properties is among the Houston landlords pumping millions into out-of-date office towers - buildings that are too valuable to tear down but too old to attract top-name tenants without major improvements.

A recently completed renovation of One and Three Riverway, office towers off Woodway, brought new tenants and long-term lease renewals to the buildings, said officials with CBRE, which markets the space for lease.

“Tenants are changing the way they utilize office space, and our renovations to One and Three Riverway were done with exactly that in mind,” said Parker Duffie, senior associate for CBRE. “We are providing our tenants with a flexible work environment outside of their space to foster greater productivity and collaboration.”

Adapting to the market

Today’s offices are being designed for a new generation of workers. Incorporating restaurants, bars and coworking spaces are a must, said architect Michael Hsu, whose firm is designing mixed-use developments in Houston and Austin and who conceived the recently completed Understory, the food hall on the tunnel level of downtown’s new Bank of America Tower.

“Even when we’ve interviewed with oil and gas companies, they’re like, ‘Hey, this needs to feel good and cool, otherwise no one wants to work for us,’” Hsu said.

To that end, buildings are being designed with more of a hospitality-focused point of view.


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