Johnston to keep staff downtown, not send them home, amidst Webb building refresh

The Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building is located at 201 W. Colfax Ave. in Denver. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

The downtown back-to-the-office push is getting a boost from new Denver mayor Mike Johnston.

As the city embarks on a $133 million renovation of the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building at 201 W. Colfax Ave., the new administration plans to temporarily relocate displaced workers to the nearby Republic Plaza, rather than have them work from home.

Lisa Lumley, the city’s director of real estate, informed a Denver City Council committee of the planned change on Tuesday. The council will ultimately need to approve the lease with Republic Plaza’s New York-based owner; a vote is expected later this month.

“Originally we planned to send people home during the phasing,” Lumley told council members Tuesday. “When we met with Mayor Johnston as he took office, one of the things that he had asked us was if he could reconsider that to support the downtown stabilization and revitalization, and try to find swing space that was cost effective that would allow for our employees to stay downtown. And so that is why we are doing the lease — so we can still keep employees downtown like they are now.”

The decision will cost taxpayers $4.93 million. That’s what the city is set to pay to lease the 6th, 7th and 22nd floors — 72,209 square feet total — of the city’s tallest building for three years. That works out to $22 a square foot annually on a full-service lease.

Mayor Mike Johnston speaks to the media in his office in the Denver City and County Building on July 25, 2023. (RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The proposed deal comes three months after the city signed a $50 million deal to lease the 52nd through 54th floors (also about 72,000 square feet total) of Republic Plaza for 13.5 years. That space will house the Denver District Attorney’s Office, which will move permanently from the Webb building.

The additional floors amount to “swing space” for the city, Lumley said. They will house workers from various city departments when their specific floor in the 12-story Webb building is out of commission due to renovations.

Once the new mayor made his preference known, Lumley said, the city requested proposals from three downtown buildings.

“Republic Plaza was selected due to the low lease rate, the move-in ready condition and the quick timing of the document execution, which allows the Webb building project to stay on track,” she said.

Real estate giant Brookfield and MetLife Investment Management own the 56-story Republic Plaza. The building defaulted on its loan at the end of last year, but ownership struck a deal with the lender this summer to extend the loan terms through 2026.

At the end of Mayor Michael Hancock’s time in office, city employees were generally required to work from the office three days a week. Johnston, who took office in July, has not announced any change to that policy. He told BusinessDen in January while campaigning that he would “like to see us increase that” requirement, but that he’d want to talk to city employees first.

“Our city employees benefit from in-person collaboration, customer interaction, and help make downtown a vibrant place,” a spokesperson for the mayor told BusinessDen Wednesday in an email. “We have not made any changes to the city’s overall work-from-home policy, and will continue to meet with city employees to identify the best path moving forward.”

The Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building is located at 201 W. Colfax Ave. in Denver. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

The downtown back-to-the-office push is getting a boost from new Denver mayor Mike Johnston.

As the city embarks on a $133 million renovation of the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building at 201 W. Colfax Ave., the new administration plans to temporarily relocate displaced workers to the nearby Republic Plaza, rather than have them work from home.

Lisa Lumley, the city’s director of real estate, informed a Denver City Council committee of the planned change on Tuesday. The council will ultimately need to approve the lease with Republic Plaza’s New York-based owner; a vote is expected later this month.

“Originally we planned to send people home during the phasing,” Lumley told council members Tuesday. “When we met with Mayor Johnston as he took office, one of the things that he had asked us was if he could reconsider that to support the downtown stabilization and revitalization, and try to find swing space that was cost effective that would allow for our employees to stay downtown. And so that is why we are doing the lease — so we can still keep employees downtown like they are now.”

The decision will cost taxpayers $4.93 million. That’s what the city is set to pay to lease the 6th, 7th and 22nd floors — 72,209 square feet total — of the city’s tallest building for three years. That works out to $22 a square foot annually on a full-service lease.

Mayor Mike Johnston speaks to the media in his office in the Denver City and County Building on July 25, 2023. (RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The proposed deal comes three months after the city signed a $50 million deal to lease the 52nd through 54th floors (also about 72,000 square feet total) of Republic Plaza for 13.5 years. That space will house the Denver District Attorney’s Office, which will move permanently from the Webb building.

The additional floors amount to “swing space” for the city, Lumley said. They will house workers from various city departments when their specific floor in the 12-story Webb building is out of commission due to renovations.

Once the new mayor made his preference known, Lumley said, the city requested proposals from three downtown buildings.

“Republic Plaza was selected due to the low lease rate, the move-in ready condition and the quick timing of the document execution, which allows the Webb building project to stay on track,” she said.

Real estate giant Brookfield and MetLife Investment Management own the 56-story Republic Plaza. The building defaulted on its loan at the end of last year, but ownership struck a deal with the lender this summer to extend the loan terms through 2026.

At the end of Mayor Michael Hancock’s time in office, city employees were generally required to work from the office three days a week. Johnston, who took office in July, has not announced any change to that policy. He told BusinessDen in January while campaigning that he would “like to see us increase that” requirement, but that he’d want to talk to city employees first.

“Our city employees benefit from in-person collaboration, customer interaction, and help make downtown a vibrant place,” a spokesperson for the mayor told BusinessDen Wednesday in an email. “We have not made any changes to the city’s overall work-from-home policy, and will continue to meet with city employees to identify the best path moving forward.”

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