Tenant improvement FAQs

What is a tenant improvement project?

A tenant improvement project, often referred to as a “TI”, involves the build out or upgrade of a commercial space to meet the needs of a specific tenant. These spaces can range from offices to retail stores to restaurants, breweries, and beyond.

The nature and scale of a TI project largely depends on the leasing client’s business, operational needs, and state of the rented space. Updates can include the addition of electrical and mechanical systems, construction of walls, and selection of materials and finishes among other things. Some building owners will create a “white shell” for future tenants to customize. White shells tend to have heating and A/C, plumbing, ceilings, walls, and floors to give tenants a blank canvas to work from. But, the process of transforming a white shell into a fully functional, accessible, and on-brand commercial space is not a small undertaking, and this is where a design team can step in to help.

Visit Eau Claire Experience Center as a “white shell”.
Visit Eau Claire Experience Center completed tenant improvement project.

Tenant improvement FAQs

Q: What are the benefits of going the tenant improvement route?
A: TI projects often involve an allowance from the building owner or landlord to help finance renovations. A landlord’s monetary contribution to a TI project is typically negotiated with a new or renewed lease. These additional funds make upgrades more cost effective upfront for business owners, especially those just starting out.

Q: How do tenants start and manage a TI project?
A: Because the terms of a tenant’s lease will determine how a TI project is financed, and what building standards are required by the owner, the first step is often getting the landlord’s approval. This approval can vary in formality, again based on lease terms. From there, the design process functions similarly to any other commercial build out or renovation. There may be additional standards an owner or landlord will want met, such as limited construction hours out of consideration for other tenants in the building or the selection of a specific contractor that the building may have worked with in the past.

Q: At what stage of the process is it helpful to get design professionals on board?
A: Involving a professional design team early on in a tenant improvement project can save clients time, money, and stress. For clients that don’t already have a space leased, we’re experienced in evaluating potential sites. We can create a “fit plan”, a floor plan used to assess the feasibility of a space and its potential to meet a client’s programmatic needs considering inputs like staffing capacity, workflows, and equipment requirements. Though not exact, a fit plan produces a rough determination of whether a program will fit in a desired site.

Example fit plan for a restaurant.

Q: What value do architects and interior designers bring to a TI project?
A: In addition to consulting on potential lease spaces, a design team can offer functional space planning, permit guidance, established contractor relationships, building code and lease compliance, and industry partner connections among other things. A licensed architect’s signature will be required to obtain a permit, so having at least one on your team will be necessary.

Another primary benefit of getting a design team involved in a TI project is to ensure seamless coordination between stakeholders including contractors, engineers, and any other consultants involved. Even after the design work is complete, we stay involved in the construction process, acting as an advocate for our clients and answering contractor questions along the way. TI projects can be more involved on the client-side due to lease requirements and coordination with the building owner. Having design professionals on your team can ease this stress and bridge the gap between tenant, contractor, and owner.

Your Shelter project architect will be an advocate for you throughout the design process.

Q: How can tenants make sure they comply with the necessary building requirements set by local jurisdictions and landlords?
A: A reliable way to do this is by working with design professionals trained and experienced in navigating codes and building requirements. We have a combined 80+ years of experience across our team of designers, so you’re tapping into a robust collection of experience and expertise to ensure compliance with code requirements and guidance in best practices.

REM5 completed tenant improvement project.

Q: Which projects in the Shelter portfolio are considered tenant improvement?

Considering making an update to your leased space? Let’s talk.

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