With the return of workers to downtowns, more building operators are looking at touchless and other high-tech features to update elevators so more people feel comfortable shuttling up to their offices.
Guidance such as social distancing to help stop COVID-19 spread is hard to do in a tiny, boxy chamber.
A touchless elevator is already installed in the yet-to-open $214 million Dayton’s redevelopment project inside the former Macy’s department store on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, said Cailin Rogers, vice president for marketing and public relations for Chicago-based Telos Group, which is redeveloping the 12-story property.
“It’s a good, smart thing to do,” she said. “You are able to scan your ID card on the scanner screen pad and it will take you to your floor.”
Other technology allows people to use voice or cellphones to activate elevators. Others have antimicrobial elevator button covers or hourly disinfection. Otis Elevator offers ultraviolet germ-slaying lamps paired with antimicrobial dust filters in its products.
Some remedies cost $1,500 to $100,000, depending on the technology.
ThyssenKrupp Elevator, which services more than 250,000 U.S. elevators, is tweaking its people-counting software so elevators shut their doors as soon as two or four people enter the cab. The German company also is installing toe-kick buttons on passenger elevators, a feature normally reserved for freight elevators.
“Inquiries are off the charts,” said ThyssenKrupp Digital Services head Jon Clarine. “Every property manager we know is having conversations about ‘What can we do?’ Building owners want the tenants to feel safe because that is what will drive their return to work.”
One client wanted help reprogramming its mobile UV-light-cleaning robot so it could automatically take the elevator from floor to floor at night and use UV light to sanitize each elevator cab and hallway, Clarine said.
The new technology is expected to be adopted by others, and quickly as the coronavirus continues to rage.
“What COVID-19 is doing is accelerating trends in every aspect,” said Jim Montez, vice president of the Transwestern firm that manages Dayton’s leasing.
The 37-story Wells Fargo Place in downtown St. Paul has 10 elevator banks. That’s a lot of buttons with the potential for a lot of germs.
The quandary sent Heide Kempf-Schwarze, Ulilev senior property manager, on a hunt. After much research, she spent $1,500 for 30 packages of antimicrobial elevator button covers to shield workers from the virus.
She also limited the number of passengers per elevator to two per ride. How that works long-term remains to be seen. The tower has 28 tenants with 1,500 employees. So far, fewer than 20% have returned full time, Kempf-Schwarze said.
Commercial Real Estate Services Inc. in St. Paul — which redeveloped the former Woolworth building (now 428), the Golden Rule building next door and 81 On Seventh — also is installing antimicrobial button covers, said Pat Wolf, the company’s president.
Social distancing stickers are being put on the elevator floors as well.
“The recommendation was that you place your decals so the person entering the elevator actually faces the wall. I can’t imagine people really wanting to do that, so we have not,” Wolf said. “But it depends on your elevator’s size.”
Steve Minn, vice president of Lupe Development Partners, said the virus made him rethink the elevator technology in the three apartment buildings his group is building on Lake Street near Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis.
The complex will have 338 tenants in structures boasting six or seven floors, and construction of the first building is nearly completed.
He will look at the touchless, radio-frequency technology for the other two, despite the cost.
“I guess I will have to, but it is expensive,” Minn said. “People who lease space are looking at the COVID [factor]. There is definitely a seismic change going on in the industry.”