IRVINE — You can get lunch at the Italian restaurant next door to Lakeshore Tower. Soon you'll be able to get your Porsche detailed in the parking garage there. Without even leaving the office building you can get your Bally loafers resoled and your Brooks Brothers suit dry-cleaned, and you buy your airline tickets to Hawaii.
But there's one thing you can't do in the building: smoke.
From the day it opened seven months ago, Lakeshore Tower has been entirely smoke-free--one of two such buildings in the county.
It's the latest wrinkle in what developers will try in order to get tenants to sign on the dotted line.
"No burns in the furniture, no damage to the carpet, no smell, no complaints from the tenants," says Bill Kearns, ticking off the reasons to ban smoking in the shiny new 18-story building. Kearns is an executive of Birtcher, the Lakeshore Tower developer.
It's a measure of how much public opinion regarding tobacco has changed in the last 30 years that tenants seem to agree with Kearns. At least, there haven't been any squawks.
As another measure of the change, consider today's Great American Smokeout, sponsored by the American Cancer Society: A quite respectable turnout of 300 local companies will be handing employees pamphlets on the dangers of smoking.
But as a developer's marketing ploy, a total smoking ban could be a two-edged sword.
With an astonishing one-fifth of the office space in local high-rises empty, landlords don't want to unnecessarily offend a likely tenant who happens to smoke. Birtcher, in fact, hasn't gone out of its way to tout Lakeshore Tower as a no-smoking building.
The subject of smoking, in fact, rarely even comes up in lease negotiations, says Kearns. And these negotiations can drone on for months as both sides quibble over minuscule details.
"When the tenants ask about it is usually after the lease is signed, and then only because their employees want to know," says Kearns. "We've never had anybody back out of a deal because of it.
"I actually have quite a few tenants ask me to enforce the policy," says Kearns, "since it makes their life easier than enforcing their own no-smoking policies."
Still, there haven't been all that many tenants to test the novel no-smoking policy at Lakeshore Tower; only about a third of the building's 380,000 square feet have been leased.
And smoke-free buildings so far are a phenomenon peculiar to the West Coast, where smokers are more likely to be frowned upon.
"There aren't a whole lot of landlords on the East Coast who are going to risk losing a tenant over a fuss about smoking," says James B. Sineath, president of Commercial Carolina Corp., a Raleigh, N.C., brokerage. Practically no office buildings in North Carolina ban smoking entirely, says Sineath because people tend to be more tolerant of smokers in this bastion of the tobacco industry.
Still, he says, "as brokers we're dealing with changes we wouldn't have dreamed of in this state a couple of years ago." Those changes include buildings where smoking is banned in at least the common areas such as lobbies.
Even in big cities like New York, entirely smoke-free buildings are fairly rare, say property managers and brokers. Office vacancy rates are so high around the country--an average 20%--that most building owners aren't anxious to offend any prospective tenant.
"Given the overbuilt market, most developers would lease to orangutans if they can pay the rent," says Michael Beyard, senior director of research at the Urban Land Institute, a Washington real estate think tank.
"It's not something developers here are really addressing, although their major corporate tenants are already out ahead of them in banning smoking in their own offices," says David Tropp, a vice president at Chicago property manager Frain Camins Swartchild Inc. "Right now our market's in such a state that landlords are only worried about where the next tenant is coming from."
But in modern office buildings like Lakeshore Tower, with their closed ventilation systems and windows that don't open, smoke and other smells can travel a long way and can stick around for at least a day or so.
"I can smell the special from the cafe across the hall right now," complains Russell P. Johnson, a senior vice president at Grubb & Ellis Co. The real estate broker's branch office is on the ground floor of a 14-story building that opened three years ago at Koll Center Orange and is the only other office tower in the county to completely ban smoking. "You can imagine what it'd be like if somebody was smoking in here, too," says Johnson, a former smoker.
The decision to ban smoking in the building came from prospective tenants, says Lynda Lane, a vice president at developer Koll Co.'s Newport Beach headquarters. "People are getting to be righteous nonsmokers," she says.