Portland’s Iconic Commonwealth Building
Evolves Into A New Classic


An Interview with Clint Copulos

Downtown Portland’s bustling Technology Triangle — a growing village of creative and technology companies — has just polished up its most alluring gem.

The Commonwealth Building (421 SW 6th Avenue, between Washington and Stark Streets) is a Class A commercial office property that features 14 stories  and over 224,000 square feet, all encased in a sea-green glass tower.

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The building was designed by Portland native and industry pioneer Pietro Belluschi.

“He’s a big deal in Portland,” says KBS asset manager Clint Copulos, “and he’s also designed other buildings across the U.S. Portland is very much about supporting locals, so this building does have a soft spot in people’s hearts. That’s another thing that we really liked about it. There was a history there.”

That history is vital and groundbreaking. Commonwealth first opened as the Equitable Building in 1948. It was the first tower to be sheathed in aluminum, as well as the first to use double-glazed window panels (it’s commonly referred to as a “glass box” building).  It was also the first property in America to be completely sealed and fully air conditioned.

In 1965, it was renamed the Commonwealth Building when the Equitable Center (now Unitus Plaza) opened. That area was also designed by Pietro Belluschi.

It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is also designated as a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The ASME History & Heritage Committee recognized the landmark as being the first large commercial building in the United States to pioneer the use of heat pumps for heating and cooling. It’s also one of the oldest buildings in Portland to be awarded LEED-EB Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council.

As it became creatively repositioned in 2008, the building became one of the go-to spots for Portland’s burgeoning technology, advertising, media and information (TAMI) tenants.

Unico sold the building to KBS in 2016 for $69 million.

“When we bought the building, it was 95% leased, Clint says. “It already had that ecosystem of TAMI tenants, who can really push and drive value in the building.”

The first question KBS asked, as always: what do tenants need today? What are they looking for? For Commonwealth, the answer was immediately apparent: intellectual capital. Companies are looking for ways to attract and retain new talent.

In its short period of ownership, KBS has already invested more than $3.5 million in tenant improvements, shared amenities, and capital expenditures. The result: the best in-class tenant experience in Portland. Amenities include a rooftop deck, conference room, tenant lounge, bicycle storage, locker rooms with showers, and a fitness center that is coming soon. And because the new work force likes to live/work/play in one general but awesome space, the building fronts the Sixth Avenue transit mall, which provides tenants with convenient access to mass transit.

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“We didn’t have to go out and find these tenants,” Clint says. “They were already in the building. And the way the tenant spaces were built out already added a lot of residual value.”

“When we bought the building, they basically had every amenity that you need,” Clint says, “but they were more of the ‘check the box’ kind of amenities: conference room, bike parking, fitness center and showers [all located in the basement]. What we did — and we just finished this a few weeks ago — is expand and improve the lobby, and then add the amenities on the ground floor. So you can come in to the side entrance of the building, park your bike, walk down the hall, shower and change in a really spa-like locker/shower area. We created a lounge feel in the lobby, and built a couple of huddle rooms where the tenants can have casual, impromptu meetings.”

As a result, Commonwealth is one of the first traditional office towers — from the Mad Men days — to undergo a complete creative transformation, with the amenities geared toward the younger, community-minded workforce.

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“We really do have the best amenity package in Portland,” Clint says.

In particular, the fitness center “will be very high end and very similar to what you see in an Equinox or any other high-end club,” Clint says.

The property has been designated as a KBS Higher Purpose Building (HPB), thanks to its first-rate location and full range of amenities, as well as its ability to provide healthy food options, fitness, wellness challenges, high-quality outdoor space, and the latest technology, among other features and benefits.

“You have about 120,000 people moving to Portland every year,” Clint says, “and most of those are Millennials. What we’re trying to create here is a product that Millennials want to be in, because they’re the intellectual capital that employers are looking for. We want to be looked at as a partner to help employers attract and retain talent.”

Click here for more information on the Commonwealth Building.

 

A special thank you to blog writer Ron Sklar for conducting this interview.

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Clint Copulos is a vice president and asset manager for KBS and a spokesperson for the KBS Health and Wellness Program. Clint is responsible for the asset management of numerous KBS investments located in Portland, Oregon, and Sacramento, California, in addition to acquisition and disposition activities. Mr. Copulos oversees a portfolio size of approximately 1 million square feet of office space.