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Real estate in 2000: more than bricks and mortar

Stunning architecture, beautiful landscaping and high-quality construction just aren't enough anymore to compete in the demanding world of commercial real estate. Tenants now expect more from their landlord than bricks and mortar, working elevators, or nice flowers in the lobby. They want buildings and facilities that will support their business needs, 24-7, if necessary.

For some time, real estate companies like Indianapolis-based Duke-Weeks Realty Corp. have recognized that trend. That's why value-added services are common in our office buildings, parks and complexes including ATMs, restaurants and fitness centers. We also seek out tenants to provide day care, car detailing and other personal services in our parks. Those amenities help create a strong bond between the landlord and tenant, beyond the real estate alone. They strengthen the tenant's ability to attract and retain quality workers, and give them another benefit to offer employees.

But the trend of adding value through amenities is reaching a more sophisticated level. Commercial real estate companies are now offering the tenant assistance with a whole host of other business issues - to make the total work environment valuable, not just the workspace. Tenants can't do business these days without first getting wired. And for some, getting the research and expertise needed to make smart telecommunications decisions is a daunting prospect.

Why not solve that problem for a potential tenant, and give them access to telecommunications that's easy as plugging into a wall outlet?

Eight of the country's largest real estate companies, including Duke-Weeks, created a national telecommunications company last October, which is now being wired into office buildings in major markets like Chicago, Atlanta and Indianapolis. The new service, provided by Broadband Office Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., will allow tenants to plug into a telephone jack and immediately have access to communications, e-business and Internet services. The service eventually will be wired into more than 100 million sq. ft. of office buildings nationwide.

Given the profound influence telecommunications has on business today, providing easy access to these services might soon become a requirement for real estate developers. Services like Broadband Office offer a single-source solution for communications needs, giving tenants not just an address, but an office environment that actually supports their business needs.

Real estate developers also need to consider how to help tenants do business more efficiently. The competitive edge will someday go to developers that can help tenants save on the essential needs of business: handling human resources, payroll, buying insurance or even ordering supplies.

Our industry must focus on the amazing potential the Internet has to offer small- and mid-size businesses. Real estate companies have the opportunity to allow tenants to save by purchasing goods and services on a large-scale basis. Tenants of an office park will soon be able to simply log onto a homepage run by their landlord and choose from a menu of products and services. By allowing all tenants to purchase goods on an aggregate basis, the real estate company can provide small- and medium-sized tenants large-scale purchasing power.

Tenants may want to offer such programs to their workforce but can't afford to on a small scale. Many large industrial parks or office complexes have the critical mass of employees needed to support educational programs.

We know that in today's tight labor market proving workers' skill levels is a top priority for many of our tenants, and there are a lot of qualified people out there in the workforce in need of ongoing education.

The days of just constructing and maintaining excellent buildings - old-time real estate - are over. Smart companies continue to make construction a high priority, but are always searching for ways to give the customers more value for the dollar.

That means thinking about whether executives want a place to work out before a 7:30 a.m. meeting; if nightshift workers need a quick place to grab a quality meal; or whether start-up companies stumped by telecommunications options need guidance.

We have to go beyond handing a customer the keys to a new office, and instead provide constantly evolving advantages that keep up with the business demands of a new century.

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