How to Crush Your Next Tenant Improvement or Interior Construction Project

How to Crush Your Next Tenant Improvement or Interior Construction Project

Tips from Business Owners on the Commercial Renovation Process

May 31, 2017

photo by Becky Dibble, Screen Pilot

A collaboration effort with Screen Pilot (Owners Tom & Becky Dibble)
written by: Audrey Wilson

We’ve been building tenant improvements for a while now. And while we feel pretty strong we know the order of things, the real story is the experience from the client’s perspective. After all, a tenant improvement indicates some type of shift for their business, generally a move toward growth or new experiences–these are moments of celebration!

As a general contractor, our hope is to make the transition seamless, so tenants can focus on their own priorities. However, how do we really know if we are on the right track? What is it like from the client’s perspective? How else can we be preparing and supporting our clients? For fresh perspective, we decided to unveil the other side of the story.

Clients Tom and Becky Dibble of Screen Pilot, graciously agreed to talk with us about their tenant improvement experience. Their hospitality-focused marketing agency recently expanded into an entire floor of a historic building in Downtown Denver and hired us for general contracting.


Snyder Building Construction (SBC): Before we dive into your direct experience with the expansion construction, thank you! We had a great time building your new space. We’d love to know more about what takes place inside these walls. Tell us more about Screen Pilot.

Screen Pilot – Becky: We started as a small consulting firm, operating out of a home office, to now, a 20-person, thriving agency who continue to grow their client base. We built Screen Pilot on the desire to create a digital marketing agency that could deliver engaging and enviable client experience with pride and commitment.

SBC: You picked Denver over London, your hometown—I love it.

Becky:  Yes, our roots are firmly in the Mile High City, although we’d like to think an office in London is a possibility, in our future!

SBC: Clearly, the expansion means you’re growing and needed more space. Why expand in a historic building rather than go somewhere new?

Screen Pilot – Tom: Expanding as the only tenant on this floor meant more privacy and a sense of growth that we are experiencing not only in head count but as a business overall. Downtown Denver is burgeoning with new builds left, right and center, and it’s an amazing location on LoDo, we wanted to stay in the thick of it all.

SBC: And you really are so close to everything. 16th street mall, Union Station, some of the most amazing Denver restaurants—having met your team this choice absolutely fits the vibe at Screen Pilot. On the inside, how did you prioritize team needs and decide the floor plan layout?

Tom: We wanted to create a much more open plan space and sectioned off private meeting rooms for client meetings and internal meetings. That way we could accomplish both sense of privacy and collaboration.

SBC: It seems like the finished outcome definitely accomplishes what you were hoping for. On a random note, we were curious, did you have any previous experience with the commercial tenant improvement process?

Tom: When taking the lease in the first place, our initial experience with commercial construction was limited to what the landlord was managing. So very little. On a commercial basis, we had no experience working with a general contractor.

SBC: No way—y’all asked all the right questions! I would have never known. When you started the process, what kind of relationship did you hope to have with your GC? And what were your priorities during the construction process?

Tom: Trust was paramount. If you can’t trust your GC, you may as well do it yourself! We also wanted to mitigate noise for both the commercial and residential tenants in our mixed-use building, but also get the job done to plan, on-time and on budget.

SBC: We couldn’t have said it any better. Trust allows the project to move together smoothly and allows for more conscious decision making when discrepancies arise. This kind of relationship ultimately leads to on-time, on-budget projects.

The construction experience from the perspective of other people and businesses is obviously crucial in a historic, mixed-use building like yours. Commercial tenants are working during the day and families are at home early in the morning and in the evenings.

SBC: Were there any surprises during the process?

Tom: Not really surprises as such, but that’s not a bad thing!

Becky: During the demo phase, pipes and strange electrical wirings were exposed, not a huge surprise due to renovating a building of its age. Thankfully, a quick call from our GC meant an effective and satisfactory outcome so the project was not delayed.

In the end, we had to know how we did overall—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Tom (in his kind, British accent) simply said, “You guys crushed it. Apart from the standard sticker shock of the cost of commercial construction, which is universal I feel, having you guys running the project has been one of the better referrals that I’ve had for a service provider in a long time. The attention to detail and acute attentiveness to our needs but also running the tradespeople on the job from what we saw was fantastic.”

“At the start of our construction project, the whole team helped pack up our existing office and we all headed home to work. Our company thrives on teamwork and collaboration, so getting back together within the same space as soon as possible was paramount. SBC ensured this happened as efficiently as the project allowed,” said Becky.

photo by Becky Dibble, Screen Pilot

Ultimately, their trust in us made for a great relationship and project experience. We had no idea Becky and Tom were unexperienced in commercial construction. They were always so confident and asking great questions.

Tips from Tom & Becky:

  1. “Select your GC carefully and make sure you have your architects start talking to your GC earlier than you think you need to.” – Tom Dibble, Screen Pilot
  2. Your general contractor’s attention to detail, communication, and level of organization will either help put you at ease or add stress to the transition.
  3. Plan your space to include multiple work environments for varied tasks. Think about open space, private conference or work rooms, and relaxing/collaboration areas.

Thank you to Tom and Becky for trusting us to build your downtown space and for your continued partnership. We look forward to continue watching Screen Pilot grow!

photo by Becky Dibble, Screen Pilot

About Screen Pilot:
Screen Pilot is a Denver-based, digital marketing agency that specializes in telling the stories of hotels, resorts and hospitality brands through inspired communication. Learn more at www.screenpilot.com.

7 Strategies for a Successful Office Renovation

7 Strategies for a Successful Office Renovation

by Audrey Wilson
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Sixth Avenue West – Golden, Colorado

Often referred to as tenant improvements, office renovations provide an opportunity to care for your employees while optimizing for greater efficiency and sustainability in both work systems and energy use. Tenant improvement projects are often triggered upon signing a new office lease. In addition to upgraded finishes, health-conscious amenities, and flexible workspace plans, we’ve seen that the best remodels create a place where employees’ mental, physical, and socioemotional wellbeing is considered. This thinking isn’t new. Big technology companies like Google are known for their innovative, employee-centered spaces. And Steelcase, a global office furniture and interior design firm, has extensively studied the impact workplace environment can have on employee engagement. With the potential for happy and healthy employees, less turnover, increased efficiency, and long-term cost savings, what do you have to lose?

Even with all of the benefits, the reality of construction lead times, potential business disruption, and project complexity can make any tenant improvement process feel daunting. And poorly managed renovations can cost major time and money. It doesn’t have to be that way! We talked with building owners, brokers, property managers, and designers to uncover the most common pitfalls we see time and time again and created some strategies to help you avoid them.

Common Renovation Obstacles:

  • Hiring a non-reputable team
  • Poorly designed plans
  • Scope creep
  • Overspending
  • Stretched timelines
  • Employee dissatisfaction
  • Not considering sustainable design

Don’t fret! Taken holistically, the following tips will help you plan for success:

Strategy 1: Engage the Right Partners Early
“Experience and reputation are the most important factors in selecting general contractors and architects,” says Joe Lamkin, principal at Bancroft Capital. Poor quality partners can make mistakes that cost time and money. Start by asking your broker and/or building owner for general contractor and architect references. Research their previous work and ask people you trust about their reputability.

You’ll want a team invested in your success, rather than a mill. Find partners who understand the importance of communication, who anticipates your needs, and are thoughtful regarding all of your stakeholders. Once you’ve built your team, involve them early! General contractors are great for supporting owners on budget, timeline, and overall design feasibility.

Strategy 2: Develop a Solid Initial Design
Beyond the noticeable finish selections like paint color, flooring materials, and wood varietals, you want the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) drawings and aesthetic components to be code compliant. Older buildings generally need upgraded ADA elements and the MEP programming will be more complex. Your architect is the expert in this area and should ensure the plans are sound before providing the official stamp of approval. When you have stamped drawings in your hand, the last thing you need is a mishap in the permitting process. Every redraw or code compliance issue could add another 1-2 weeks to your construction start date! Lastly, great contract drawings make the bidding process easier and more accurate so you can feel confident in the estimates.

Strategy 3: Clear Delegation & Responsibility
Scope creep can happen when elements have not been fully designed or project details are left undefined. When the scope of work is unclear, subcontractors may avoid responsibility or sometimes double up the work to protect themselves contractually. The best remedy? A strong team from the start. Really good design and construction professionals know to identify and delegate scope responsibility to avoid miscommunication, overwork, and overpaying.

Strategy 4: Budget Realistically and Plan for Contingency
“Many times clients do not allow enough budget for what has been designed and then end up making sacrifices regarding overall quality and durability or timeline,” says Rich Snyder, owner of Snyder Building Construction. For a mid-level commercial upgrade in Denver, be prepared to spend $45-$55 per square foot for construction. In addition to this amount, ensure you’re thoroughly considering the design and engineering processes for your basic trades (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing). A word to the wise, these estimated numbers do not include furniture and fixtures! And of course, actual cost will vary based on your individual project.

More importantly, plan a 5% contingency cost line into your budget. The industry is busy, and unforeseen field conditions are not uncommon. Plan ahead for this and you’ll have a better sense of actual costs for your renovation.

Strategy 5: Plan Ahead to Stay on Time
Do the preparation work to develop strong drawings. Gauge lead times for permitting, material delivery, and contractor mobilization appropriately. Every vendor and supplier is different. We’ve listed a few of our known long-leads based on trends here in Denver. Michelle Miller, licensed architect and principal of Jigsaw Design, noted you should expect timelines of about 10-12 weeks from the beginning of schematic design with the architect to the start of construction. Great general contractors are ahead of the game and develop schedules that are well versed in the lead times for their geographical area.

In Denver, expect 5 to 6 weeks for the design process and the architectural, MEP, and construction drawings to be completed. Add another 5 to 6 weeks for general contractor bidding and contracting. You can also expect typical long-lead items like decorative lighting and commercial furniture to run 8 to 12 weeks and 8 to 10 weeks respectively. These timelines are just a guide, but hopefully provide some insight into the scheduling components that need consideration.

Strategy 6: Get Employee Buy-In
If you’re moving into a new space, and the tenant improvement process is part of the initial lease agreement, the construction phases may be less of a disturbance to your team. Otherwise, if your team is currently occupying the space you plan to renovate, there are certainly things to consider. Will the team work remotely during the construction? Would you prefer to complete construction in sections and keep employees onsite? The general contractor can be an incredible guide in making these decisions as they are the most knowledgeable in terms of lead times, construction planning, potential noise, and disruption.

While the end result is anticipated to please your team, the moving process and relocation can be very disruptive to tenants. If the new space is underwhelming, it could have an opposite effect on company morale. “Team members and building tenants can become quick adversaries if construction noise, dust, and other nuisances become overwhelming,” says Lamkin. Consider involving your team in the early visioning process. Dialogue and surveys can provide insight to what your employees are really looking for. Professional space planners are also available for hire and can help with understanding what your employees are looking for.

Lastly, choose partners who will go the extra mile to inform about the construction process and who are proactive in their approach. Some ways we do this at Snyder Building Construction include: keeping highly disruptive work after hours or on weekends; keeping the work areas clean; using negative air fans with air filters; providing clear notification of construction areas; as well as keeping flow open and not blocking tenant access.

Strategy 7: Consider Sustainability and Health
We partnered with Bancroft Capital to study 51 possible sustainable upgrades for a tenant. Of those 51, we found three that provided good economical and environmental benefits⎼a huge win for the tenant and the owner. These three upgrades included: solatubes used in conjunction with advanced day-lighting controls, and ultra energy-efficient HVAC units. Consider looking into these options for your project as well.

Holistic health encourages physical, mental, and emotional wellness. We’ve seen success supporting employee health through bike storage, prominent staircases, standing desks, water bottle refill stations, and healthy snack vending.

BONUS Strategy
Quality, Time, and Cost⏤all three are in play, but you can only pick two.
This is age-old, industry wisdom. In almost all cases, owners want the highest quality products and performance while sticking to stringent budgets and timelines. The best general contractors, designers, and architects already know this and have your best interest in mind regarding all three. However, no matter how much planning goes into a project, you’ll want to know which two of these priorities mean the most to you. “The stakeholders (owner, tenant, and general contractor) must have a firm grasp on the desired outcome and the driving economic factors of the project,” says Lamkin. Together, your team serves as checks and balances to make sure all project elements are prioritized appropriately.

Want to learn more about how Snyder Building Construction can support your tenant improvement project? Contact us! We provide commercial and multi-family residential estimating, preconstruction, and full general contracting services in and around Denver. Special thanks to our contributors Bancroft Capital and Jigsaw Design, LLC. Audrey Wilson is an Assistant Project Manager with Snyder Building Construction.