By Jeffrey Steele, Special to the Tribune
October 11, 2013
Not long ago, apartment business centers were best described as all business. Today, new workspace amenities blur the line between business and leisure.
Mobile technology has prompted a rethinking of traditional business centers. They used to be isolated, windowless rooms dedicated to high-speed Internet connections, and printing and faxing documents.
But with smartphones, tablets and laptops a ubiquitous part of our culture, Internet access is a given, even when on the go, said Greg Lozinak, board member of the National Apartment Association, and executive vice president and chief operating officer of Chicago-based Waterton Residential, owner of Presidential Towers.
Many new apartment business centers are designed as bright and comfortable workspaces for multitasking, whether it's working online, lounging or meeting with business associates.
“Today, a business center is almost the wrong thing to call this concept,” Lozinak said. “Most people use them for one of two reasons.”
The first, he said, is to access scanners and printers they no longer need at home. More often, they're seeking space to collaborate or study with others.
“At Presidential Towers, we're incorporating meeting rooms and alcoves with tables and chairs within the common areas, where people can come together to work and socialize, communicate and collaborate,” Lozinak said.
Diana Pittro, executive vice president of RMK Management Corp., whose 35 properties in Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota have workspaces, agrees that apartment developers are changing their ideas of a business center.
“When we first did business centers, they were private rooms, enjoyed by people who worked from home,” she said. “Now, business centers are becoming an area for working and lounging. So many people these days work with their laptops and don't have computers set up in their home anymore. … It's gone from privacy to more social.”
At K2, a new Chicago apartment high-rise at 365 N. Halsted St., the cybercafe workspace is equipped with a printer, several computers, paper and an ATM.
Down the hall, residents can obtain tape, paper clips and other supplies from the staff. In the boardroom, a TV monitor allows residents to make PowerPoint business presentations to clients.
It's very popular with the building's chief demographic of 28- to 38-year-old renters, said Randy Fifield, vice chairwoman and principal of developer The Fifield Cos.
“A lot of people are working from their homes, and they want technology,” Fifield said, adding that K2's workspace is “not just used for work. It's a social platform. … These business centers are setting buildings apart, because they really enhance the live-work-and-play urban lifestyle.”
The new 500 Lake Shore Drive apartment tower in Chicago provides a 300-square-foot business center, called The Link, on the 12th-floor amenity level. It has four workstations and four contemporary cushioned armchairs with desk attachments large enough for laptops. A four-in-one printer-scanner-copier-fax machine is available.
Residents don't have to camp out at a coffee shop with their laptops, because there's a coffee bar next to The Link. Across the hall is The Event entertainment suite, which tenants can use for presentations and meetings.
“We designed our amenity level not just to accommodate (residents') personal lives, but their business lives,” said property manager Sasha De La Cruz.
“It's 2 in the morning, and if there's a trader trading overseas, he can pop down and get some work done without disturbing his family. If you're an on-call person and need to get work done, you can maintain that home feeling, as opposed to a home-business feeling, by stopping into the business center,” she said.
A personal assistant can book business travel, coordinate car rentals, provide thank-you notes or gifts to clients and co-workers, reserve entertainment for out-of-town clients and handle any other business needs, De La Cruz said.
Optima Chicago Center, a new apartment tower in downtown Chicago, offers a 300-square-foot business center with computers and 17 private, furnished offices for lease by residents. The business center serves multipurpose needs of all residents; the 175-square-foot offices are geared to residents running their own businesses.
“It's totally turnkey,” said David Hovey, president and CEO of Glencoe-based developer Optima Inc. “We provide the desk, chair, storage area, refrigerator, and they bring in their own computer and supplies. If they have any (information technology) issues, we have a staff available to back them up. … They walk in and it's ready to go. That has proven very popular with our apartment residents.”
Business centers are often associated with urban apartments but are no less vital amenities at suburban complexes, such as The Woods of Countryside, a 719-unit apartment community in Palatine. Its business center houses computers, printers and a conference room, said President T.J. Woytas.
Frequent users range from children to seniors, many viewing it as a social center.
Cheryl Hejnal, a resident of Butterfield Oaks apartments in Aurora, often uses the business center to finish homework for her DePaul University classes, and to complete paperwork connected to two volunteer gigs.
“I'm there at least three or four days a week,” she said. “I love that I don't have to pay for printing, don't have to pay for paper, and if something like a computer or printer breaks down, they fix it within 24 hours.”
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