ANDERSON — The coronavirus pandemic may prove to be indirectly responsible for the owners of one of downtown’s most recognizable buildings reimagining their tenant roster.

The recent decision by the Madison County Community Foundation to move its offices to a space across the street from Dickmann Town Center left the First Savings Tower with a roughly 50% occupancy rate, according to Brian Bell, local property manager with Anderson Properties, which owns the building and oversees its operations. He said filling the more than 90,000 square feet of space in the nine-story tower, which opened in 1970 as First Savings and Loan Association, is a process that can take time.

“The issue is, we have a very small amount of small offices,” Bell said. “There’s a lot of space that’s either half a floor or a whole floor. Anything from about 3,000 square feet on up becomes hard to lease.”

The pandemic has spotlighted the practicality of remote work, which has prompted many companies to rethink not only how work gets done, but also where it gets done. Some officials believe that new way of thinking is starting to translate into renting and leasing decisions.

“People have learned that you can work from anywhere, depending on what your work is,” said Greg Winkler, executive director of the Anderson Economic Development Department. “Probably 75% to 80% of work can be done from any location, so they simply don’t need that much office space. It’s very, very, very difficult to fill up those types of buildings outside of a central business corridor, and that’s what these owners are experiencing.”

Bell said efforts continue “behind the scenes” to attract tenants, and other ideas for filling the building are being considered, including a food service area – with either fine dining options or a food court – on the ground floor.

“The funny thing about downtown is, you’ll lose a tenant who has like 1,500 square feet and then somebody will come along who needs 1,500 square feet,” Bell said. “It’s almost like the universe knows when people go in and out.”

Winkler said officials with Anderson Properties are working on modifications to the building’s electrical systems in order to make it more cost efficient and thus more appealing to smaller potential renters. The city, he said, is offering suggestions on the types of companies they might consider for occupancy.

“It has to be driven by technology,” Winkler said. “There are a whole host of things, especially as we become more enamored with artificial intelligence and some of the things that it can do, we’re going to need people with really solid technical skills that can answer questions — whether that’s a chat or whether that’s an actual phone call. We see those types of providers looking for that type of space.”

Bell is optimistic that the First Savings Tower will soon be the subject of a similar success story as the nearby Union Building as Anderson’s downtown continues to reinvent itself. That building — also owned by Anderson Properties — has gone from an occupancy rate of less than 30% seven years ago, he said, to being nearly filled.

“There are definitely plans for the building,” Bell said. “Downtown Anderson has a great story and great potential. It just takes the right individuals to come down and see for themselves what’s here.”

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