HOUSTON – (By Ralph Bivins, Realty News Report) – Houston’s newest downtown skyscraper, a silvery 35-story building that opens up its basement level in a way that has never been attempted before, has been officially christened Bank of America Tower.
The naming announcement was made Wednesday by Skanska, the building’s developer and Bank of America, the anchor tenant which leased 205,000 SF of office space and another 5,000 SF for a street-level bank lobby.
The working title for the building has been Capitol Tower in recent years while Skanska’s has been constructing the downtown edifice. Henceforth, it will be called Bank of America Tower.
Located ay 800 Capitol Street, the 754,000-SF tower covers a block bordered by Travis, Milam and Rusk streets in the center of downtown.
“We will move in in less than three weeks,” said Hong Ogle, Houston market president of Bank of America, which is leaving the Johnson/Burgee-designed, 1983-vintage Bank of America Center, a block away.
The building will be opening with almost 90 percent of its space leased, as its new amenities – including large open-air garden-park on the 12thfloor, fitness facility, and a high-quality food hall – along with exceptional sustainability have lured tenants to Next Gen office space create by Skanska.
With the new Skanska building, designed by Gensler architects, Bank of America is moving into a structure that invites the public into an open atrium that opens up the below-grade level with a 30-foot wide staircase and a terrace of furniture-quality wooden benches.
The basement level space with the atrium above it and the glass walls along Milam, Capitol and Rusk streets invites people on the sidewalk, a change from the design of most downtown towers that segregate the tunnel-goers from the street activity.
And the tunnel-level food hall, which has unique chef-driven outlets is part of the national Food Hall trend that caters to the Millennials and the like.
Importantly, the food is open seven days a week, unlike the old- school standard where downtown food service is only Monday through Friday.
Skanska is calling the 35,000-SF space “Understory.”
Understory offers seven diverse chef-driven concepts and a cocktail bar.
Designed by the Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, a central feature of Understory is the open-air blending of the street and tunnel levels, featuring what will be called the “Great Steps,” monumental staircase. This creates “the first true street level gateway to the tunnel network.”
Hsu, based in Austin, has been emerging as a Starchitect in the restaurant and Food Hall realm.
The Bank of America Tower has been a long time coming. In 2011, Skanska purchased the old 18-story Houston Club building, 811 Rusk. The Houston Club building was destroyed, giving Skanska a clean full-block canvas to create this new tower.
The foundation for the new building was poured by a massive fleet of concrete trucks on August 22 and 23 of 2015. But crude oil was in the midst of a steep drop at that time. West Texas Intermediate crude, which was over $100 a barrel in 2014 slid in a free fall that would not stop until it dipped below $27 a barrel in early 2016. This meant that Houston’s energy firms were laying off thousands of employees and emptying office space at a frightening pace.
Some real estate professionals were confounded. How could Skanska be starting new office space when vacancy was soaring?
Skanska is no ordinary developer, however. The project was internally financed – no bank loan required. The developer, formally called Skanska USA Commercial Development, is an arm of Stockholm-based Skanska AB, a global construction giant which reported $20 billion in revenue in 2018.
After pouring the tower’s foundation in 2015, Skanska appeared to slow-walk the project while waiting for CBRE to reel-in tenants. The ice-breaker was the signing of Bank of America. Vertical construction began in 2017.
The new building provides proof for the cliché in the office leasing world, the so-called “flight to quality.” Even though Houston’s office vacancy is high, the new Skanska tower and the new downtown buildings by Hines have filled up briskly. (The citywide office vacancy is at 20.9 percent, reports NAI Partners.) New buildings are appealing to tenants.
With tenants riding the “flight to quality” wave, Skanska opens up at 88 percent occupancy.
Skanska’s new tower has the following tenants:
Skanska (12,481 SF, floor 12)
Bank of America (210,000 SF, floors 14-20)
Winston and Strawn (62,515 SF , floors 23-24)
Waste Management (284,000 SF, floors 25-33)
Quantum Energy Partners (32,000 SF, floors 35-36)
“…opens up its basement level in a way that has never been attempted before..” I suppose you mean, never been attempted in Houston before, because it’s been done many times before. There are dozens of examples in Toronto, Shenzhen, and many other cities.
That would be affirmative.