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Urban Farms: Commercial real estate and urban agriculture

5/15/2023

Rapid urban development and geographic constraints have globally reduced the arable land available for cultivation close to population centers. To potentially fill this gap, companies, organizations and building owners are turning to vertical farming operations such as hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics.

These vertical farms require less space than traditional ground farms and can be located in underutilized assets or surface areas such as rooftops and empty parking lots.

For now, only a small percentage of commercial and residential projects are incorporating vertical farming. Globally, from Asia to Europe and the United States, pioneers of urban agriculture are exploring the possibilities.

Singapore, for example, has historically been dependent on and imports 90% of its food supply, making its residents particularly vulnerable to supply problems. But ComCrop is working to change that dependency. Occupying what was once a huge car park, the rooftop farm uses hydroponic growing systems to produce vegetables and herbs, and yields six times more than a conventional farm of the same size. An added bonus, ComCrop also employs seniors and people with disabilities from nearby communities.

In Europe, Basel, Switzerland became the first city in the world to make green space a legal requirement in all new and retrofitted buildings with flat roofs. The initiative turned the city into one of the greenest in the world. The first commercial aquaponic urban farm built in Basel in 2012 produced 1500 pounds of tilapia and 7700 pounds of vegetables in its first year, sold to local restaurants.

Projects in the US include JetBlue's urban farm at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, the world's first operating urban farm at an airport. It has 2,300 plastic milk cartons in beds whose soil is created by leftover food donated by airport restaurants. Three thousand crates of sweet potatoes, arugula, beets, mint, basil and much more are produced and distributed annually.

Innovative ideas like these are demonstrating that commercial food production can be integrated into commercial buildings, both from a technical and economic perspective, and given that real estate occupants and investors are increasingly interested in sustainable practices and design , it is not difficult to imagine that commercial real estate players will have more and more incentives to consider the verticalization of agricultural operations.

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Built in 1960, the Barão de Mauá building is one of the architectural treasures of the city of Rio de Janeiro. Designed by Oscar Niemeyer together with Sabino Barroso and Lúcio Costa, it went through different periods in the country's real estate and economic market and recently gained more technology and functionality, which further enhanced its charm.

Located in the central region, it has more than 23 thousand m² of built area and 20 corporate buildings, currently 100% occupied by the largest electricity company in Latin America and one of the largest in the world. Around 750 users pass through there per day.
After an important retrofit, completed in 2018, the Barão de Mauá Building re-emerges revamped in the Rio real estate market to continue writing its history in the heart of the city.

Learn a little about the work that the Cushman & Wakefield Property Management team has been carrying out in the condominium and understand how this successful relationship has been built long before the renovation.

2002 to 2017 – Property and Facilities Management
Even before the retrofit, Cushman & Wakefield already worked with Property Management in the common areas of the condominium and also provided Facilities Management services in the private areas.

2018 – Completion of retrofit
Between 2015 and 2016, the Barão de Maurá Building was vacated to carry out the retrofit. The work was completed in 2018, the property had its facilities completely modernized, which placed it among the best-rated corporate buildings in the city, with LEED Gold certification, which proves that the project complies with strict construction use standards, in addition to the Procel A seal, which attests to its energy efficiency. The iconic architectural design has had its original characteristics preserved.

At this point, Cushman & Wakefield then resumes condominium management work.

2019 – Reoccupation
In 2019, the Barão de Mauá building opened its doors to its new occupant, which would later become the largest electrical energy company in Latin America and one of the largest in the world, becoming a single-user building.

In addition to the common areas, the Cushman & Wakefield team dedicated to the operation provided full support to the occupant during the process of reoccupying the building, going through challenging moments when the COVID-19 pandemic devastated Brazil and the world.
With delays throughout the supply chain and a direct impact on service provision, a lot of resilience and expertise was required to deal with adversity.

Another important moment in relation to occupant support also required new efforts from the team. After being incorporated by another company, the occupying company goes through a relayout process that included new reforms.

2024 – Operational Excellence Award
Having overcome the challenges, today the team is reaping the rewards of the work carried out over all these years.

The quality of the service provided was recently recognized. The Barão de Mauá Building was highlighted in the operational excellence award, which annually recognizes Cushman & Wakefield's best operations in Property Management. Result of the combined efforts of all members.
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