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When the coronavirus reached Orange County in March, Irvine Co. had a plan.
And, officials say, nearly a decade to prepare.
OC’s largest owner of offices—with nearly 60 million square feet of buildings in its companywide portfolio, among other assets—said its team has had a pandemic plan in place since 2010.
It served as a blueprint for a response strategy when the virus hit OC and forced stay-at-home orders and remote work environments.
The plan’s seen its share of updates over the past six months, with shifting reopening guidelines in the county and the state.
It has also been used to guide the Newport Beach-based firm as it readies for more office workers to return to its properties in the coming months, and as under-construction buildings move toward completion, according to Michael Bennett, senior vice president of office operations.
“We have refined our pandemic plan over the past decade as different situations arise, and this one was something we had never seen before, largely because of the speed of the movement,” Bennett said.
“We have been mobilizing very quickly on our response since February, as the virus started to spread from China into other parts of the world.”
Between March and April, as all but essential workers switched to a remote work environment, Irvine Co. focused on communication with tenants and employees regarding current CDC guidelines.
After weeks of peer reviewed research, the company released a “comeback with confidence” plan that aimed to succinctly communicate potential next steps for clients, as the county headed for an easing in business regulations in June.
The program advised clients on how and when to consider returning to the office, and highlighted infrastructure changes that Irvine Co. had implemented across its portfolio, such as increased cleaning protocols, new air and water filtration systems, touchless restroom fixtures and hand sanitizing stations.
Now, the company is doubling down on its effort by being the latest local business to tap health officials at the University of California-Irvine for specified reopening guidance, both for its property portfolio and its own internal offices in and outside of California.
“As we continued to develop our new pandemic plan, we felt there was one missing piece, which was an independent third-party evaluation,” Bennett said.
After hearing Dr. Susan Huang, an infectious disease professor at UCI, speak in a paneled discussion, the company approached her to “provide a deeper review” of the reopening plan, and provide actionable strategies for the company’s own office operations, as well as its portfolio in Orange County.
Huang looked at the “areas of highest risk,” which includes elevators, common areas and break rooms.
“The company really prioritized social distancing, and took advantage of outdoor spaces as well, which is critical,” Huang said.
“We want our clients to understand we are going above and beyond in making sure the office is a safe place to return to,” said Bennett, noting that the company’s roster of tenants are moving ahead with office reopening plans of their own as business regulations relax amid an improving COVID-19 environment.
“While this pandemic has shown us the importance of flexibility, it’s also reinforced the need for a physical office space to reinforce culture and collaboration.”
UCI’s health officials have also done similar assessments for the Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, and expect similar collaborations in the future.
Irvine Co. believes its approach to office design in recent years fits well with changing tenant needs in the wake of COVID-19, as the company has prioritized development of small- to mid-size offices with less density, and an abundance of outdoor gathering areas.
This approach increases the marketability of the company’s office space, particularly as companies increasingly look to corporate locations in less-dense suburban markets, local brokers believe (see story, page 1).
Despite uncertainty regarding when companies will return to the office en masse, Irvine Co. continues to push ahead with new development.
Its newest project, Innovation Park, is going up alongside the Santa Ana (5) Freeway and Sand Canyon Avenue in the Irvine Spectrum area. The low-rise project will hold 550,000 square feet when completed, across a series of low-rise buildings.
The collection of 28 “loft-style” buildings offer “unparalleled access to fresh air and natural light,” the company said on its website, which also markets “vibrant outdoor seating areas” and a private pedestrian path.
Other features that highlight pandemic design trends: indoor/outdoor connectivity with exterior stairways, roll-up doors, private patios, operable windows, skylights and central air handlers that deliver 100% outside air filtration. Building sizes range from 20,000 to 64,000 square feet. No tenants have been announced for the project to date. It’s expected to open next year.
A few miles away in the city, the second phase of Irvine Co.’s Spectrum Terrace development continues to move ahead. Three buildings totaling 345,000 square feet are being built in this phase.
The mid-rise project has gathered interest from a number of single-tenant users, such as hedge fund firm TGS Management LLC and Irvine-based data analytics software maker Alteryx Inc., which leased 183,000 square feet there across two buildings.