Whether it’s an office lobby or a home’s front yard, a stagnant storefront or a busy bus stop, Max Musicant thinks it should be a place where people want to be.
His six-year-old company, the Musicant Group, works with real estate companies, municipalities, community groups and private businesses to revitalize spaces with that basic principle in mind.
“Every space can and should be a great place that people feel good in and that’s useful and meaningful,” Musicant said in an interview.
His Minneapolis company has created a niche in the local real estate market and grown from activating underused spaces to helping to manage programs across large portfolios and designing new sites. Developer Mortenson just announced Musicant will be involved with engaging tenants for the One Discovery Square medical office building in Rochester.
Musicant said his firm will continue to prioritize design with a new in-house designer. Plus he has ambitions to one day expand into property management.
“The customer and user experience is becoming paramount within real estate,” Musicant said. “For decades, especially commercial real estate buildings were seen as commodities. They were seen as purely physical objects where most of the value was in the physical structure itself.”
That’s slowly changing.
Musicant’s projects can be found in office buildings, like the ground floor common area of Capella Tower in downtown Minneapolis where his staff arranges activities such as farmers markets and ice cream socials. His company also works in public spaces, like the vacant lot and skyway near the Green Line’s Central Station in downtown St. Paul, where passersby have enjoyed lawn games, and live music.
“Max’s model works really well for spots like that, that are in transition,” said Joe Spencer, president of the St. Paul Downtown Alliance, which hosts the Central Station pop-ups in partnership with the Knight Foundation.
The pop-ups encourage “positive interactions” with people that in turn benefit the neighborhood, he said.
Mark McCary, executive vice president of office brokerage at the Minneapolis office of real estate firm CBRE, said the Musicant Group has been a valuable partner at a handful of downtown office buildings that CBRE has been responsible for leasing.
About three years ago, Musicant helped CBRE brand the green space next to what is now called SPS Tower into “the Turf Club,” for use by tenants. At the 801 Marquette building, the Musicant Group has projected video games on an atrium wall for tenants.
“Understanding the elevated role a building can play in helping employers attract and retain talent was the thesis for saying we need to build a stronger sense of community … An event never used to be on anybody’s mind,” he said.
Part of the push has come from the popularity of premium coworking sites where programming and concierge services are standard features along with additional spaces for people to work outside of their desks, McCary said.
Enhanced work spaces aren’t limited to traditional offices.
The Musicant Group is collaborating with locally owned Hyde Development to expand the services for tenants at its Northern Stacks industrial park in Fridley with plans to also service other properties in Hyde’s portfolio.
“It makes it so those people like being there, which makes it easier for those companies to retain and attract talent which hopefully leads to lease renewals,” said Paul Hyde, co-founder of Hyde Development.
Musicant is also working with developer United Properties as the public space and common-area consultant for its new mixed-use building the Nordic that is under construction in the North Loop.
“Musicant’s approach clearly ties with our goal of making the Nordic public plaza a highly activated year-round amenity for the project and neighborhood as we strive to make it the backyard and living room of the North Loop,” said Gordy Stofer, vice president of development and the lead developer on the Nordic, in a statement.
Musicant is an avid proponent of the growing “space as a service” strategy, where a person’s user experience is what drives the value of an area or building rather than just the physical structures.
Technology has made it possible for people to work and shop from almost anywhere. Offices and stores have become less necessary, forcing landlords to evolve into service providers and property managers to act as “curators of the user experience,” Antony Slumbers, a software development and technology strategist, wrote last year on the online platform, Medium.com.
Musicant grew up in south Minneapolis and studied political science while he took urban-planning classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He moved to New York City and worked for three years at the Greater Jamaica Development Corp., where he oversaw public space improvement and programming. He also worked on real estate development primarily focused around the Jamaica station railroad hub. Musicant and the development organization helped create a jazz concert series, landscaped plazas on the sidewalks, and an artist gallery in a converted vacant building.
“I really love and care about people,” Musicant said. “I also love the built environment. For me, it was just the perfect marriage of the two … and also [a chance to] to collaborate and serve the public as well as the private sector.”
Musicant was pushed by a supervisor to attend business school. He earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management in 2011. He returned to the Twin Cities, working for about a year for a nonprofit in north Minneapolis before he started his own business.
“I thought, ‘Well, is there any reason why what I had seen work at a district scale out East and in many other cities couldn’t be distilled down into a site-by-site building scale service?’ ” Musicant said.
The area with the most untapped potential was the indoor and outdoor common areas in many of the Minneapolis office towers, Musicant said.
Musicant launched the Musicant Group in the spring of 2012. The firm now has five employees, including himself, and offices in the WeWork coworking space at Capella Tower. The startup’s first project was Cancer Survivors Park in front of Marquette Plaza near Nicollet Mall and Washington Avenue in Minneapolis. The group created a program with seating, games, live concerts and weekly tai chi classes. The program tripled usage of the park, Musicant said.