Sometimes I think great ideas can come from the naivete of others. In that vein, let me present an extremely naive idea and see if it spurs any thoughts by those more knowledgeable. — Douglas
Driving around Los Angeles is that object lesson in the state the economy. It is my personal, anecdotal survey of what is happening in the city. Right now, it is worse than I have ever seen it. Block upon block of storefronts with NOW LEASING signs or boarded up windows — High-rises with empty floors — parking lots empty except for the weeds poking through the asphalt. The city seems to be rolling up the sidewalks and reverting to its natural state of grasses and tumbleweeds.
I think there might be a way to help everyone get things moving again. What would happen if property owners “leased” out office and retail space for free? Wouldn’t a building which is in good repair, well-lighted and having foot traffic be more inclined to attract more tenants than an abused boarded-up, graffiti-covered blight on the neighborhood?
I assume there are some benefits to leaving properties empty. Utility costs are nil and there are surely tax breaks due to the loss of revenue. Still, wouldn’t it be better for everyone if these spaces were filled and functional, even at reduced or no rent?
Taking a sign from the Internet world, wouldn’t it be beneficial to develop some sort of “freemium” model for underused commercial real estate? Wouldn’t it be better for all to return these properties to a productive state, if only on a temporary basis? I could foresee month-to-month agreements where small businesses and organizations could use the space, but also be aware that deal could be revoked if a paid renter was found. It isn’t very stable for an organization, but I know I could live with that arrangement if it meant I had a place to meet and hold classes. In some cases, these “freemium” renters could even turn into full tenants as the economy improves. Just as with Internet services, converting a few to the premium plan could support the free use by others. Even more, it could introduce small businesspeople to the idea of an eternal office and the benefits it provides.
How would it work? My first thoughts turn to my own needs at the moment. I could really use a small 10-20 person space to hold meetings and New Media classes. Since I CAN work out of my house, I do, but I can’t and don’t necessarily want to bring strangers into my home for training. I need something cheap to provide me some flexibility, without breaking the bank.
Each day, I walk by 3-4 empty auto sales lots here along Van Nuys Boulevard where I live. They have been unused for months and detract from the neighborhood dramatically. Every time I walk by I think of how I, ad others, might be able to use those spaces, but I have no idea where to start.
Further up the street is a small 3 story office building that has NEVER had a tenant in the 3-4 years since it has been completed. I have thought about calling the number on the FOR LEASE sign, but I am at a loss for what I would say. “Hey, I noticed your building is empty and thought maybe you could give me and my friends a few rooms rent free!” It seems absurd to even say it, but maybe that is exactly what we need to do.
I would love to hear from more knowledgeable people about how something like this might be “sold” to property owners. I don’t have any experience in that area so I am sure I am missing some important aspect, but I still think there might be something to this “freemium” model for office and store space. Let me know what you think about why this might work or why it can’t. I would love to learn more about the realities of commercial real-estate and how it might be turned to everyone’s benefit.