As chair of Venable’s renowned New York Real Estate Group, Suzanne St. Pierre has worked on many transformative developments in the city, ranging from the construction of the new Moynihan Station to the reimagining of Admiral’s Row at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In this recent conversation, Suzanne discussed a project closer to home, her participation in the committee to select and design Venable’s groundbreaking new office space in the heart of midtown Manhattan.
Of all the decisions that had to be made in this process, choosing the location must have been the most challenging. How did the committee eventually settle on 151 West 42nd Street?
Once we started discussing the move with the New York partners, it quickly became apparent that various forces would keep us in or near the traditional 6th Avenue “lawyer corridor.” Our two managing partners hit the pavement and looked at around 30 Class A buildings. There were a couple of serious contenders, one being a very modern space in the Rockefeller Center, where our old office had been located. But once the committee saw 151 West 42nd, it became an instant favorite. We all loved the views, the light, and the layout, and could really see ourselves here.
Aside from the location and the views, which are spectacular, was there anything else about the space that impressed the committee?
One of our priorities was having lots of convening spaces that would draw people in, enhance formal gatherings, and encourage casual meet-ups. This space offered so much in that regard, such as the 3,000 square foot wraparound terrace on the 49th floor and the ability to create the café and other dining facilities. We were also impressed with the building’s 4th floor conference center, which is large enough accommodate the entire partnership. The space really had everything we were looking for, so it was pretty much a unanimous decision to come here.
151 West 42nd is also known for being the first green skyscraper in the country. Did the building’s high environmental standards factor into the decision?
Absolutely. We very much value the fact that this is a LEED certified building. A lot of the newest buildings are, but the owners of this building are leaders in this area, and that was appealing to us. It was also high among our criteria that the architects and contractors take sustainability into consideration in designing and building the space. It’s very important to us—and to me personally—that as time goes on, we become even greener in terms of how we operate in the space.
One of the objectives with the new space was to create an “office of the future” that accommodates how employees want to live and work today. What were some of the design features that reflect that goal?
We communicated to the architect early on that we wanted a modern look, but with a cozy feel. We didn’t want every surface to be metal or marble. Especially since everybody had been working remotely for so long, we felt like it was important to have some homey touches. The architect really nailed that with the use of lots of wood, the finishes around the doors and the frames, the soft fabrics, and the subtle lighting. We also really wanted to make sure that when people are in the office, they feel comfortable. That meant creating a variety of huddle areas where people can get together, making healthy food options available throughout the day, and providing an outdoor space.
Another goal is to facilitate excellent client service. How will the new space contribute to that?
In the past few years, we’ve come to rely more than ever on technological innovation. So, it was a priority for us that the new space incorporate state-of-the-art technology into our conference rooms and event spaces. These improvements will certainly enhance the client experience. Our new facilities also expand our ability to host our clients and their guests for different types of meetings and events.
It’s certainly true that, since the pandemic, many companies are relying more on remote work. Why did Venable decide to prioritize office space and office culture?
Our philosophy is that we do need to be present in person with our colleagues, and that being in each other’s company really does bind us together. That philosophy applies to our client relationships as well. It is important to make room for more personal conversations rather than purely transactional encounters. In-person meetings and gatherings allow for serendipitous moments in a way that e-mail or video calls really don’t. Of course, we do have many clients who are geographically distant, but having this space gives us the best opportunity to be able to host our clients and have personal interactions where possible.
The New York Real Estate team has worked on some high-profile and transformative projects across the city. Are there any developments that have been particularly meaningful to you?
Among the projects I’m most proud of is Moynihan Station, which I believe has enhanced the train experience for many people in the city. That was a fascinating project for the New York Real Estate team to work on because it was a public-private partnership involving many different stakeholders. It required an incredible amount of coordination and had a lot of different legal facets. Another very meaningful project for our team—which was just announced by the mayor—is the New York Climate Exchange on Governors Island, a transformative new project that will bring together great minds from academia, industry, and community organizations to address the challenges of climate change. It’s been great to partner with our client, the Trust for Governors Island, on such an important project for our city and our future.
You and your team handled many of the legal aspects of the office move. Did your experience with various developments around the city influence your approach in any way?
Well, our team advises clients on design and construction projects all the time, some of which are interior projects like this. John Walsh, Neda Ameri, and I negotiated all the design, construction, and consulting agreements for the new office. At first we thought it would be very much like other projects, but we found that the process is much more difficult when you are also the client! When you’re an advisor, you look at a project in a different way than the stakeholders. So, it was fascinating and educational to occupy a different seat at the table in this instance. I think it’s given all of us a new respect for the difficult decisions our clients have to make, and we’ll use those lessons in our work.
Venable has been steadily growing its presence in New York since 2005. What do you think this move means for the firm’s future in the city?
At a time when a lot of companies are downsizing or their employees are moving to other places, we’re really saying that we’re invested in this city and that we’re here to stay. We’re not doing away with our hybrid work schedule, but by building this office where we can all come together and work, we have made a long-term commitment to New York.
Venable’s New York Real Estate team is particularly known for its work in public-private partnerships and iconic developments in the city. To learn more about the team, we encourage you to reach out to Suzanne St. Pierre with any questions.