NTH Inc. is behind several of the largest real estate deals in the metro, representing more than 150 clients, such as Ecolab and HealthPartners, as those firms look for new office space. NTH also oversees development projects such as CHS Field and the Palace Theatre, both in St. Paul. Tina Hoye, NTH’s president and principal, has taken over the helm of the 25-year-old firm from the well-known Russ Nelson, who retired last year.
Hoye said the recently certified female-owned business continues to branch out with the companies it works with and the scope of projects it manages. “We see the whole picture,” she said. “It’s not just about rent and square footage.” Hoye, a St. Paul native, was also just chosen as the new board chairwoman-elect of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.
Q: How did you first get into the real estate business?
A: My actual educational background initially was in German and geology so nothing to do with real estate. My mother is from Germany. Hence the German, and geology was purely interest. After college, I moved to North Carolina for several years. I moved there because my husband was in the service. I came back here and started working for Russ Nelson. I got the job purely on the fact that I could type, I could do a spreadsheet, I knew a little bit about accounting. I learned real estate from [Nelson] and his former partner. I went back to school and got a business degree in finance from St. Thomas and I essentially learned the real estate business on the job. And 25 years ago, Russ and I and John Tietz, my former partner, formed Nelson, Tietz and Hoye, which then became NTH in 2014 when John Tietz retired.
Q: How have clients’ expectations changed over time as they look for new office space?
A: People are looking for the space to be more than just an office where everyone sits with their heads down working. It’s a factor in recruiting and retaining employees. The employees that they are looking to recruit and retain have different expectations than people like me or their parents. So flexibility, different types of spaces to work in [is important]. It might be fine working at a small open desk for a period of time during the day, but there’s other times where you want to be able to close the door and really do heads-down work. Sometimes there’s phone rooms, huddle rooms but small private spaces that are open to people so you could do that work where perhaps you don’t want the interruptions from the people around of you. Having a mix of types of spaces is probably going to be more successful than just having wide-open spaces.
Q: How important is branding when a client is creating a new office?
A: We’re seeing more application of branding within a client’s space … essentially branding for the employees and stuff within the space that speaks to who they are. We are going to make sure that the client has a good sense of what they want. Twenty to 25 years ago, you talked to the CEO and he would say, “This is what I want,” and that’s what you did. Now the CEO is great, but he’s going to bring in his or her HR professional, his marketing people, IT. Ecolab was a good example when they purchased the old Travelers building. The team for implementing that was really diverse in terms of specialties. The decision was at the top and it was kept pretty quiet, but once a decision was made, ‘what’s the space going to look like’ and ‘how are we going to be organized’ had a very broad group of people coming to the table to say what do the employees need? What should the branding be? They’ve done some really cool stuff there to transform that space to make it Ecolab space instead of just a St. Paul company or Travelers space.
Q: With new technology there have been discussions that real estate brokers could eventually become obsolete. How does a firm like NTH try to respond to disruptive technology?
A: The easy access to information, not just for the consumer but for the businesses, the real estate businesses is really useful but I don’t think it replaces the relationships and the market knowledge. You can have a building with X rent and a building with Y rent but that’s not the only measurement. Sorting through all that is where we bring value because things aren’t as simple as ‘let’s just pick the one with the lowest rent.’ It might be the lowest rent, but it might have the highest utility costs because they haven’t done any upgrades for their building systems. There’s things like that, if you haven’t gone through it, [then] you are not necessarily going to know. I don’t think a YouTube video is going to fix that. Helping a client even define what they need is a big part of where we bring value.
Q: Right now office absorption is generally flat. How do you think that can be improved?
A: Being able to attract new users to the metro. We are getting people from the suburbs downtown, well, then that just leaves holes in the suburbs and it’s not net growth. Greater MSP [which Hoye serves on the board of] chased Amazon and the Army Futures Command. We need to be doing more of those to get new bodies instead of just moving things around. Because as people move around, they use that as an opportunity to redo their space and do things that are really cool but it ends up being smaller.