Owners of vacant office space and would be non-office tenants such as creative enterprises or start ups are being urged to join an online matching service. It’s been “soft launched” by University of Technology Sydney researchers Dr Gill Armstrong and Professor Sara Wilkinson’s STAR Toolkit team and the Rosella Street search site as way to meet outgoing costs for empty space while enlivening buildings and their CBD surrounds as the work from home movement continues apace.

The stubborn problem of rising office vacancies is no longer interesting news. Vacancy is set to rise further.

But what is newsworthy is the soft launch of the collaboration between UTS’ STAR Toolkit research team and the circular economy tech specialists at Rosella Street.

Together, we are building a community to connect environmental, social and governance-centred building owners with individuals and organisations who are looking for temporary or “meanwhile” space.

The knock-on effect of vacant space can be felt much further than its floor plate. Vacant space means lunchtime queues are shorter at surrounding cafés and shops, and getting a great restaurant table after work is easier.

While this seemed like a positive initially, less vibrancy may further dampen the desirability for hybrid workers to visit the CBD offices more often.

According to Hassell’s 2023 survey of office workers, Great Adaptations, city vibrancy is one of the key attractors to persuade office workers to leave their home offices and head into the city more often. And, given there is a cost-of-living crisis, Hassell suggests, we can’t count on an economic downturn to drive office workers to reverse the trend to work more from home.

The Sustainable Temporary Adaptive Reuse, or STAR, been works with Sydney’s experts in property valuation, asset management and building regulation to find and unlock the benefits of addressing some office vacancies.

The findings are interesting because there is a real appetite for STAR in building owners of both primary grade office buildings at the “top-end-of-town” but also with older secondary grade offices.

Low or no cost trials

The program is seen as a way to help building owners reduce the risk of unrenewed leases by low or no-cost trials of something different in spaces that are already empty.

It’s a potential win-win in a bad situation. But what is lacking at the moment is a connection between people who need space for new uses and the building owners or managers trying to find solutions.

The STAR Space Tool hopes to remedy that for Sydney. 

The tool can help in several ways and be tailored to the different types of office buildings and their specific locations.

Add vibrancy to your building – and the café downstairs

New uses can increase vibrancy whilst also adding value for existing tenants by offering new amenities and helping organisations entice their staff to come into the office.

It also aligns with the need for ESG reporting by real estate investors.

It also aligns with the need for ESG reporting by real estate investors, with demonstrable impact on environmental grounds and through having a social impact.

According to Professor Sara Wilkinson Australian property professionals and international peers are focusing more on ESG and the STAR Space community platform not only addresses this but also that vacancy is time-sensitive

“We know the sum of lots of small pockets of vacancy has the potential to lead to more stubborn and hard-to-resolve problems for the market. And we know vacant buildings decay at a faster rate.”

An ESG activity that will be recognised

Through ESG, the real-estate industry can support social enterprises or start-ups, even on a temporary or trial basis. STAR can help empower longer-lasting good change.

Charter Keck Cramer director Mark Willers suggests there is a window of opportunity for innovative office owners and managers to reposition assets through integrating new amenities and social enterprises which support knowledge workers or reactivate space with a “meanwhile use”.

“Owners can test the benefits ‘meanwhile users’ can bring.

“If the right occupancy mix is struck, there is the potential for temporary space users to enhance the experience of longer-term tenants in buildings.

“Potentially, owners can look at STAR impact through existing metrics such as occupancy figures and any flow-on additional incomes.”

Mark Willers, Charter Keck Cramer

The STAR Space Community tool has just launched in collaboration with Mick Fritschy, chief executive officer of Rosella Street, with support from the City of Sydney’s Knowledge Exchange Grants.

Rosella Street is an Australian-owned circular economy platform, that is similar to Gumtree, but also includes online safety and a knowledge exchange capability to help people and organisations be more sustainable.

It also helps members calculate their positive social and environmental impacts.

Innovative solutions can be born if stakeholders have a place to come together and find compatibility.

However, as Professor Wilkinson says, it’s not easy for property owners to connect with potential users from different communities and industries. The tool is designed to meet those shortcomings.

“STAR has guidance for space seekers to pitch ideas from doggie daycare, well-being services, school holiday programs, artists’ maker spaces, urban agriculture, and museum exhibition storage to clusters of tech-startups eager for Tech Central to be built.”

STAR Space allows property owners or agents and potential users to connect, test appetites, exchange knowledge or demonstrate thought leadership. There will also be a STAR Toolkit workshop, to be held online, in November.

Join STAR Space

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