How Coworking Is Reviving New Orleans’ Office Scene
Tyler Robinson of SVN | Urban Properties on trends in a market that often marches to the beat of a different drummer.
Although the New Orleans CRE market overall is currently demonstrating robust activity supported by several noteworthy projects, its office market is still struggling, mirroring national trends. Despite these hurdles, many in the CRE industry are still optimistic about the future of the New Orleans office market and believe that there’s growth potential.
“We have raised an equity fund and are actively looking to place capital in the region,” Tyler Robinson, managing partner of SVN | Urban Properties told Commercial Property Executive. Urban Venture Fund seeks to deploy more than $30 million into Gulf South real estate by 2025.
With more than 40 years of combined experience in the market, SVN | Urban Properties’ specialists take a holistic approach to navigating the current challenges, banking on their in-depth understanding of the local Southeast Louisiana market, and supported by SVN International Corp., the national brand under which they operate since March 2022. The boutique firm is established at Urban Hub, a flexible office space it owns in the heart of New Orleans’ Lower Garden District, that opened almost three years ago.
In the interview below, Robinson talks about his company’s journey so far, and touches on the story behind Urban Hub, the flexible office concept that promises to reimagine coworking in the metro.
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Apart from the well-known, nationwide challenges, are there any specific issues that you’ve noticed in the New Orleans office market?
Robinson: New Orleans tends to march to the beat of a different drummer. Typically, a bass drum, in a brass band, during a second-line parade. It rarely follows national trends and the office market is no exception. In fact, in terms of office-to-residential conversion, we have been ahead of the national trend. The office market in New Orleans has remained fairly soft, even as inventory has been reduced by apartment or hotel conversions. The last time an office tower was built in the city was in the 1980s. All that goes to say that, while are and will continue to experience some additional declines in office occupancy, it will not have the same impact as what is unfolding in other markets.
How has your partnership with SVN International impacted your operations so far? To what extent is it fueling your growth?
Robinson: We are proud to be standing here today—it has been quite the journey and we still feel as if we are just getting started. Joining SVN International has created some wonderful opportunities for us—both in terms of internal systems and in terms of brand recognition and competitiveness in the market. Our tech portfolio received a 10-fold overnight boost when we joined and our ability to set our advisors up for success via training, tech and reporting metrics received a similar boost. We have a great amount of confidence in our ability to grow the company with all these tools backing us and we’ve seen this in practice in the past year with SVN.
What sets your approach apart from other similar firms in the area?
Robinson: We like to pride ourselves as a local group with institutional services. The four managing directors have varied backgrounds and all worked previously at larger firms, and this is part of what differentiates us in the market. Our approach is very much informed by our institutional experience but is softened by our collaborative and relaxed approach.
Can you share a few details about major office deals and/or projects in the New Orleans area that you’ve recently been involved in?
Robinson: On the project management front, we recently completed 353 Carondelet, a historic renovation of a four-story office building for Fidelity Bank’s headquarters. We were honored to serve our client by procuring and managing all aspects of the construction process. This project started in the fall of 2019, so we had a very interesting set of circumstances to navigate. We were still able to deliver the building on budget and almost on time, despite a six-week shutdown on the project due to the start of the COVID-19 panic.
Fidelity Bank occupies the first, second and a portion of the third floor, and SVN | Urban Properties is marketing the remaining space for lease. Much of our recent office-focused leasing and management activity has been in the medical office sector, which mostly comprises smaller buildings near medical centers.
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How does Urban Hub fit into your overall business strategy? Is it a core focus area or more of a complementary offering?
Robinson: We created Urban Hub out of necessity—we needed to fill some excess space in our office building, which we purchased in February 2020. We knew that pursuing the traditional office lease direction was not the route for us, or for the space. We want Urban Hub to act as a home for those who don’t want to work from home. We have a bar and a dining table in the kitchen, couches throughout, a ping pong table in the backyard, a front porch—all things that incorporate that feeling of being in a home.
Urban Hub fits into our strategy in multiple ways. SVN | Urban Properties was the first tenant in Urban Hub, so we are aware that it’s a fun place to work and we intend to keep it that way as we plan to remain a tenant. Secondly, we desire to purchase real estate with the intention of creating more Urban Hub locations. This gives us the opportunity to create brokerage and development opportunities for our team. Thirdly, having a coworking company in the portfolio allows us to create relationships with individuals and companies whose real estate needs may change over time and we want to be there for them when those needs arise.
What amenities do tenants enjoy at Urban Hub? What makes this space unique?
Robinson: Urban Hub offers amenities that you tend to see in many well-done shared workspaces: a stock of coffee—and even beer, wine, and other spirits…it is New Orleans, after all—ping pong, a kitchen and bar area, phone booths, multiple conference rooms. We bring in practitioners for sound baths, yoga and breathwork. We have regular gatherings for the members—crawfish boils, holiday gift exchanges, happy hours.
These types of things are common today in the modern workplace. What really sets the space apart is somewhat intangible. The most important amenity offered is the community. Urban Hub is right-sized so that everyone knows everyone, and it’s that family atmosphere that captures the hearts of our members.
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What types of businesses and individuals are you targeting for your Urban Hub space?
Robinson: The mix of people at Urban Hub ranges from individuals who just want a spot to plug in and log on, to a rapidly growing start-up. Most people keep daytime work hours, some show up in the evenings and on weekends. Importantly, the mix is harmonious. The culture of the place is important to us—that same reason is why many of us choose to live in New Orleans—and we target users who will appreciate the focus on culture.
What are your expansion plans for this year and beyond, both in commercial real estate and the coworking sector, in particular?
Robinson: SVN | Urban Properties plans to expand in all areas this year and beyond—we are actively seeking to hire additional advisors. We have seen a rapid expansion of our property management portfolio and we have staffed up in that department to continue that growth.
Since we started with three people in 2015, we have always sought to expand—as individuals and as a company—and we have pursued that expansion organically and consciously. This has been the key for us in expanding while maintaining our culture. With Urban Hub, we are aware that the feel and the culture created in the space are of utmost importance. As we seek to expand that business line, we will continue to maintain the focus on building the brand, but not forcing its expansion.
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