By Joshua Burd
The state’s office market is rife with uncertainty, yet the pipeline for Bruce Emtage and his team of interior designers, project managers and workplace consultants “has never been stronger.”
“Yes, clients are asking us to help them realize how they can use their space better — and they may be at the point where they think they can consolidate because they are considering hybrid work models,” Emtage said. “We understand and respect that, but the wonderful thing about our business is that it still creates a lot of opportunity for us in this market.”
It should make for a busy start to the next chapter of what was previously known as Studio Eagle. That began in mid-January, when real estate services firm Avison Young announced that it has acquired the 35-year-old, Springfield-based design and workplace planning practice, marking a major addition to its New Jersey project management team and another key step toward creating an all-important, all-inclusive platform for its clients.
With Studio Eagle, the company has gained a team of more than 30 that provides end-to-end advisory services to clients that are rethinking their office space. That includes upfront consultation, interior design and managing vendors and subcontractors involved in the build-out, all while serving as “the entire point of contact for the entire client journey.”
“It’s something that is different, that we’re going to be deploying not only in the tristate, but throughout the country, throughout North America,” said Jeff Heller, an Avison Young principal and the firm’s New Jersey managing director. “This is the model of the future for our project management group.”
Toronto-based Avison Young, which expanded to New Jersey in 2012, was among the first to focus on bringing construction and project management in-house alongside traditional brokerage services. It jumpstarted those efforts with the acquisition of what was then The Walsh Co., adding a team of nearly 30 professionals with deep ties to the state’s commercial real estate industry.
The former Studio Eagle team will now augment that practice, led by Tracey Kasper, whose services include construction and project management, representation of owners and developers and tenant fit-outs, among others.
“That’s going to be the closest link in the chain, although it is a new methodology and a new delivery method for Avison Young,” said Emtage, a principal with the firm, who had been Studio Eagle’s managing director.
He now leads what’s known as AY’s New Jersey Project Management Studio Services unit, which will continue to work closely with corporate users and their top-level executives. Those services are now as important as ever, as companies weigh the future of their workplace after two years of operating remotely.
“We can’t deny it — we’re still in a pandemic, we’re still not fully mobilized, but I believe … people are starting now to come out of the bunker and talk about it, but then now implement it,” Heller said. “So that’s where I feel where we are in this cycle.”
The hybrid work model is central to that conversation, Emtage said, noting that some clients have already asked for help to both reduce and optimize their footprint.
“I think all of us know that a portion of our work has been very successful remotely,” he said. “The heads-down work — we’ve all proved that we can get it done, but it’s now changing in our environments where it’s not based on physical accountability, such as seeing you in the office. It’s based on accountability based on results. And there is absolute value in physical space, but we see that it’s going to be used for different and enhanced outcomes from what the cube farm or the traditional office offered to us pre-pandemic.”
Admittedly, such a trend was already taking hold before COVID-19. But the pandemic has only accelerated that movement while highlighting an opportunity for corporate occupiers to reduce their operational costs “while still creating a place for them to come back and invite their excited employees back to work.”
“So we see that the office absolutely is going to have a hybrid component to it,” Emtage said. “It’s going to be necessary for companies to think about that in the war for talent, but then for us to be very much on the cutting edge of design in seeing how spaces will actually function in the future. They’re going to be used for innovation, collaboration, team-building (and as) client super centers, where we can still meet and where we can still bring clients to our turf, just like we’re working on their turf.”
Kasper, an Avison Young principal and vice president of project management, said there are also “opportunities for folks who are looking for a short-term solution because they don’t want to make the decision right now.”
“They don’t think it’s the right time — that the employees head is still ‘I can work from home’ — but they don’t see that as a long-term solution,” she said. “So they may be looking for some short-term real estate solutions that maybe don’t hold a full workplace strategy to them, but they still need assistance in making that happen.
“With the current state of office real estate, especially in New Jersey, there’s sublet space available, so a lot of folks are asking about that.”
Studio Eagle, which started as a firm focused on suspended ceilings and interior construction, has built a long track record of representing top-tier corporate clients in industries such as food, legal, life sciences and insurance. Its recent projects include workplaces for Apprentice.io in Jersey City and Bressler Amery & Ross PC in Florham Park, among others, with many more likely to come with the newfound reach and resources of Avison Young.
Emtage said as much in mid-January when the firms announced the move.
“We made the strategic choice to align ourselves with a collaborative and dynamic real estate services platform like Avison Young’s because they have the market intelligence and tech stack to propel growth and put boots on the ground in extended geographic regions,” he said. “This was the right transition, at the right time and we are excited to bring our talented team and decades of workplace design experience to the Avison Young family.”