Listen to Max Musicant of The Musicant Group discuss space activation, creative placemaking, and cross-audience benefits that come from thinking about place after construction.

On this episode I’m speaking with Max Musicant, Founder and President of The Musicant Group, a space activation firm dedicated to creating places where people want to be.

Musicant group placemaking

The firm has pioneered a holistic approach to the creation of place that integrates design, events, and management systems all through the lens of the user experience. He and his firm have demonstrated that community and commercial interests all benefit from more humane, inviting, and lively places for people.

Since its founding, The Musicant Group has transformed places as varied as Class A office buildings to vacant lots, from urban main streets to suburban strip malls, from block parties to industrial parks.

  

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Musicant group public good

In 2019, his firm provided hospitality and activation services to 5.9 million square feet of space at 29 locations, produced 376 events, and trained hundreds more on their methods and approach.

Further Reading - Max happened to mention early podcast guest Anna Mackay from Guerilla Development, so bookmark and listen later, too!

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Podcast Transcript

Chris Arnold:
A few quick notes before today's episode. If you enjoy the podcast, please rate it on iTunes or other platforms where you listen. This is a huge part of helping us grow and it's much appreciated. This podcast is produced by Authentic Form & Function. We're a design and technology studio working in the real estate space. We help developers and architects innovate their work with unique brands, websites and digital tools. Last year we launched Amplify, a digital real estate marketing platform that combines high touch custom design with out-of-the-box real estate marketing technology. Find out more at authenticff.com/amplify. Finally, we want to hear from you, email your feedback and ideas as well as who else we should speak with to podcast@authenticff.com.

Max Musicant:
These days there's a craving for community and connection. It's easy for us to have privacy, to have exclusivity, for us to be alone, and we certainly all need some of that time. But in part because of all the technology we're around and the nature of how work is changing, those organic, serendipitous social interactions are not happening nearly as much as I think that we as humans want them to have. Being able to create and curate those opportunities and experiences, events and physical spaces where people can and do come together and can connect, or just even be alone together around each other is just invaluable.

Chris Arnold:
On this episode, I'm speaking with Max Musicant, founder and president of the Musicant Group, a space activation firm dedicated to creating places where people want to be. The firm has pioneered a holistic approach to the creation of place that integrates design events, management systems, all through the lens of the user experience. He and his firm have demonstrated that community and commercial interests all benefit for more humane, inviting and lively places for people. Since its founding, The Musicant Group has transformed places as varied as class A office buildings to vacant lots, from urban main streets to suburban strip malls, from block parties to industrial parks. In 2019, his firm provided hospitality and activation services to 5.9 million square feet of space at 29 locations, produce 376 events and train hundreds more on their methods and approach. I'm your host, Chris Arnold. Let's jump right in.

Chris Arnold:
Max, thank you so much for joining me today.

Max Musicant:
Yeah, happy to be here. I'm really excited for the conversation.

Chris Arnold:
You grew up in the Southwest part of Minneapolis and my business partner lives there today, and having visited many times during the winter myself, I know it's definitely not an area for the faint of heart. Tell us about that Midwest upbringing.

Max Musicant:
Yeah. Well, that cold is really character building as the dad in Calvin and Hobbes used to say over and over again. It was certainly true for me. It was a really a wonderful place to grow up. Half of my family, on my mom's side of the family, has been in Minneapolis for generations. My father and his side of the family all came from The Bronx in New York City. I really have always felt that I'm really an even split between those two different types of sort of energies and familial cultural ways of being. But what brought my two parents together who had, on the surface, maybe didn't look or act very similar was a real interest in public service and the common cause and doing things that you believe in. They ended up meeting each other for the first time at an event hosted by the then Mayor Don Fraser.

Max Musicant:
My mom was a volunteer for his campaign while she was a nurse and my dad was working for a small housing department in the city that was representing tenants’ rights. They both really connected on that level. Then beyond that, my father then went on to leave a stable job and to pursue his dream and his passion of being a Naval Military Historian and ended up publishing five books on Naval Military History, which was what he was most passionate about. Really following his dream, even though it was difficult and uncertain. Then my mom's side, her father pursued his passion and dream of becoming a sculptor and took the risk of pursuing that creative career.

Max Musicant:
It was difficult at first, but he became quite successful in his mid and later career. I think both those two experiences of one being really dedicated to serving others and serving our city and then having examples of leaders and elders in my life who took risks to work on things and have a location around what they believed in that was both creative and purpose-driven, definitely shaped who I was and some of the decisions I've made in launching Musicant Group decades later.

Chris Arnold:
No, that makes so much sense. There's actually this other story that almost completes the picture for what you're doing today and the work that your firm is doing today, but it has to do with the traveling soccer team story, grade school student, soccer team and something that had to do with land use. What was that about?

Max Musicant:
Yeah, so I took those sort of like the creative and that service piece and I added the city element to that. That really peaked for me while I was playing traveling soccer growing up. I was living in Minneapolis and my games were all over the region, in Blaine, in Apple Valley, in Eden Prairie, Coon Rapids. I remember going to these matches and then looking around where we were driving to and where the games were and really feeling that the land use patterns and the communities looked a lot different than where I live, which is not the densest place in the world of Southwest Minneapolis, but a pretty tight knit urban fabric. I started getting really interested in what was going on there, what caused those different land use patterns. I came across a book in my senior year of high school, Suburban Nation, which just really unpacked why this was happening.

Max Musicant:
There were a lot of adverse effects to society and people of living in places that were so auto dominated. That to me, I think built upon countless hours playing SimCity, really cemented in me a passion for cities and a real interest in figuring out how they worked, and when they didn't work, what to do to make urban places or places of all kinds work well for people to bring people together to find that common humanity to live healthy, vibrant, economically thriving lives for themselves and for everyone else.

Chris Arnold:
Yeah. With that in mind, did you end up doing more study? Did you pile on books, upon books, upon books within that topic? I'm just thinking like heading to college, did you go there and say, "I know exactly what I'm going to do?" Or is that more of a formal career path that you found formed for you later on?

Max Musicant:
Yeah, I just knew I was really interested in cities and so I started, like I had to write a thesis in high school. I wrote my thesis on urban sprawl and then enrolled in Madison, which had a great focus in that area. At that point, I was really firmly in both worlds of political science and urban planning and interested in the intersection of those two things. I still am and I'm interested in a lot of other intersections of how those two things work together now. I'd grown up a lot, like my mom would bring me on local political door knocks for city council campaigns and park board campaigns and state representatives. I really saw the power and the importance of local politics and local governance on our cities and our built form.

Max Musicant:
That was the initial lens that I was sort of looking at it through, but I definitely took all the urban planning classes. I could, while in college, and did a number of internships, both in local politics for accounting commissioner for a local public affairs advocate and also for our local youth organization and an affordable housing organization to really get a pretty big breath about what was out there. Coming out of college though, I was really energized by all the exciting books I had read, especially Jane Jacobs and The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and community development and other books that were really energizing. Then I went out and looked for jobs that were called urban planners. Unfortunately, what I found is that the jobs with those titles seemed that they were much more administrative rather than proactive and planning and doing the things that set the stage.

Max Musicant:
That, I had an inkling that other people were making those planning decisions. It wasn't always the person called the urban planner that was doing that. That's not to diminish from the important work of orchestrating the process and things like that, but I wanted to be a bit more proactive, a bit more entrepreneurial and make more of an impact from the work that I was doing. I had a family friend that had been very active in the community development and economic development space here in Minneapolis, then also for indigenous reservations in Canada, coincidentally. He turned me on to this practice of economic development and local economic development entities. That was really exciting to me. All of a sudden, I found this world of these organizations that could run programs, whether they're creative programs, social services programs, small business programs, they could buy buildings, they could renovate buildings. They just had a lot of flexibility about what they could do to serve a given area. That felt like a really exciting path to follow and to try to find opportunities in.

Chris Arnold:
Did you find yourself embedded into the Twin Cities and you jumped right into economic development jobs and off to the races or was there something else, a step before that? Because you're in Minneapolis now, but was there something else before you came back?

Max Musicant:
Yeah. Well, I always knew, I have always had a really strong connection to Minneapolis and the Twin Cities. I just felt a strong, strong connection to here and wind up make it a better place and to serve the people here. I knew that I had to leave the Midwest for a little bit before I could come back. After college, I was looking for opportunities in New York City, which is like a little reverse homecoming because I still had family that was based there. I left and I was lucky enough to find a position at this organization in Jamaica, Queens, which is like the Harlem of Queens, just the transportation, the cultural and economic center of Southeastern Queens, which has a very strong and historical African-American population in addition to new arrivals from the Caribbean and South Asia. Just an incredibly vibrant and diverse community to serve.

Max Musicant:
The organization I was at called Greater Jamaica Development Corporation was set up with funding from the Federal Government back in the '60s and they had made decades of really amazing work of enhancing and bringing in more transportation options, new subway lines, monorail to the JFK Airport. Then, while I was there, that organization had accumulated some office buildings and retail space and a couple thousand parking spaces, and we started to leverage those holdings in order to do some site acquisition, really run-down sites and parcels that were surrounding the hub transit station in that area. It was at that point where I really started to learn the real estate process and the pre-development process and site assemblage and how you really add and create value.

Max Musicant:
What was really informative about that experience, in additional learning the real estate industry and the mechanisms of development, was that like what locational value really is, and that we would show investors and developers our parcels that we owned on a map and all the different transportation access points and they'd be really interested. Then they would come and visit the site and many were then turned away and turned off by the location. Part of that was just, honestly just something like unfair stigma that the neighbor had had that I think that people from the outside brought with them that was unfair. But I think more than that was that it was a very chaotic public realm and there were 75 different bus routes.

Max Musicant:
There was a train lines going through, taxis everywhere. No one was really taking care of the sidewalk, so in New York, there was a lot of litter everywhere. It just wasn't being cared for, and so not so great human experience, really was impacting then our ability to bring in more jobs and more affordable housing and more opportunity in that area. At that point, my boss, the number two in the organization had come over from the Bryant Park Organization and the business improvement districts that ran Bryant in 34th Street and Grand Central area, which were really at the forefront nationally of, how do you create positive activity in public spaces that creates both public value and private value? Not through a bunch of security forces, but to create a bunch of positive things for people to do and to really take care of a space and through that care is what adds that value.

Max Musicant:
We started layering on top of our real estate work, programming and public space improvements, which included creating pop out plazas, adding additional seating and landscaping, wifi, concert series, marketing and branding. We created our own clean and safe ambassador program, leveraging our own property management staff, and really just looking holistically about how do you create a great experience in a space, and in doing so, making the people's lives better who are there and then also really enhancing the business environment for those existing businesses and making it more attractive for new business coming in.

Max Musicant:
That was an incredibly formative experience, which just lit my eyes up. I was like, "This is what I want to do. This is holistic. It's tying all the pieces together, is bringing the public sector and the private sector together. It's fundamentally humane and it's all about creating opportunity for people all along that economic spectrum.

Chris Arnold:
Yeah. Wow. Clearly, this was a huge defining moment in your career, in your early career, and you're cutting your teeth on all these projects, you're getting involvement on all sides of the process, but something happened to you and you head back to school for a Masters. Why did you make that decision at that point?

Max Musicant:
Yeah, so this was an amazing organization to be in and it also had a unique organizational chart. You think of most organizations have a pyramid, there's a few people at the top and more as you get down, the less seniority. This one was interesting and it looked like an hourglass in that there were a lot of senior people, a lot of junior people. Then I was at this like magic spot in the middle with just like a couple of other folks. It was really great in that I got a lot of responsibility. I learned a tremendous amount and the room for advancement stopped quickly. I was able to learn so much and do so much and then it just became a natural time to move on.

Max Musicant:
I had always thought I would get a planning degree because I was in Twin Cities in urban planning, and through this experience and running these programs and getting involved in real estate world and through the advice of my mentor at my organization, I started looking at a business degree or an MBA instead, because for a number of reasons. One, I was very interested in the ongoing operations and care of spaces and the value that could be created from doing that in addition to the creation and design and financing of them. Then two, that there weren't that many people that were really passionate about the ongoing care of space beyond the typical facility person, which they're invaluable, but there can be a strange divide between people that saw the creation of space, in the financing space, as value creating and that there wasn't much value to be created in the ongoing care of the space.

Max Musicant:
I don't think that that's true then and I definitely don't think that's true now, but it just didn't draw in as many dynamic and innovative people. I always like be an insider-outsider. I was like, there's not many people that care about parks that have an MBA. I think that this skillset would be a very valuable thing to bring to this practice overall, both to be an effective practitioner myself, but also to elevate the practice of the entire field. I then surveyed some business degree programs and was lucky enough to find and then get into a great one that really fit my values, which is the Yale School of Management. They were established 30 years ago as a hybrid between a public administration and a business administration degree.

Max Musicant:
Their mission as a school is to serve business and society. It really connected with my values, and there were a lot of people in that program that were coming from government and nonprofit, in addition to the private sector. It was a really wonderful mix of people and everyone there, whether they were going into business or going back into the public sector really believed that no matter what you're working on, it's a vehicle that make the world a better place regardless of what your tax status is.

Chris Arnold:
Around this time, you actually came in contact with two mentors that I want to mention as a quick tangent because I think it's important, and clearly a big piece of your development as a professional, but who were those two mentors and why have they become so important to you?

Max Musicant:
Yeah, the first one I met there was a Professor of Innovation in Organizational Behavior named Rodrigo Canales. He taught, among other things, our innovation class as part of our core curriculum there. It was a really informative experience because there's a lot of buzzwords around by being innovative. I think it can be sometimes misconstrued as just coming up with ideas or good ideas. What he in that class really instilled in me was that it's a process and it's a structure, and that the entire organization of a firm or of an entity or even society can encourage and support and grow innovation and improvement or it can really stifle it. That's been a really critical lens for me in establishing The Musicant Group and how I thought about structuring, it's finances, it's marketing, it's employment, my hiring processes incentives, and then also how we think about each project.

Max Musicant:
Because each project of The Musicant Group is in itself a small pilot that will hopefully grow into larger project probably or setting up larger projects that with different clients and different organizations that can grow off of the lessons and learnings of previous projects. What we're really trying to do is change the game and to make the case and elevate the practice of showing that by focusing on creating a great human experience in any space, whether it's public or privately owned, that it really benefits all people. All owners, the financial interests, any other stakeholder. It's just a continuous innovation process that makes sure that we're looking at a whole ecosystem. The second person was Alex Garvin, who is a really unique individual who had been teaching a class on the American City at Yale for 30 plus years, and he's insisted on never becoming a professor because he always wanted to maintain a strong foothold in doing the work and being a practitioner.

Max Musicant:
So, he's a trained architect, he's been a real estate owner. His last most public job was to be the chief urban planner for New York City's Olympic bid in the early 2000s. What I really took from him is that he is so strongly an idealist and a realist, which I feel I am as well. It's like we see the vision for could be and we work with what we have in real terms to make advances towards that. He was very savvy and interested in finding ways to use private and public funds and energies and activities and rules to create both public benefits and private benefits, and saw the need for entrepreneurship, both in the private sector, which I think is easily seen and celebrated, but then also on the public sector side.

Max Musicant:
hat that looks a little bit different, but you still need those really strong public advocates and entrepreneurs that are working to innovate within systems to make them happen. He spent a lot of time looking at people like Robert Moses who has a very checkered reputation, but there are some lessons coming out of his work, Paul Levy out of Philadelphia and other luminaries across the country, but learning a lot from him about how to straddle and leverage both that private and public sector to create wonderful public spaces that serve our democracy and create economic vitality.

Chris Arnold:
Walking off of the Yale Campus, having had all this experience, having this connection with these mentors that clearly impacted your profession and the work you're doing today, what happens next? Did you just find yourself in a job? Are you staying in New York City, are you staying around Yale? Where did you go from there?

Max Musicant:
Well, I was adamant the entire time I was in school though, I was heading back to Minneapolis, which people who had not visited there thought was maybe a little crazy, but I told them it was the land of opportunity, or at least it was for me. I had spent several years while I was in school and even prior to school networking and building relationships with people in the Twin Cities. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, which was to work for, or lead a business improvement district or a locally based economic development organization, which were the two types of organizations I'd seen being the most entrepreneurial and the most effective in doing this public space enhancements, this place-making, this activation work to serve both those public and private goals.

Max Musicant:
Upon moving back here, lo and behold, I find that not only did there not seemed to be any jobs doing this sort of work in the Twin Cities, there were not even the organizations that exist that are doing this sort of work or even capable of doing this sort of work. I talked to a variety of entities and I tried to talk with some that I thought could really benefit from this approach to see if they were interested in getting into it. Frankly, people either have no idea what I was talking about or they did and they just didn't feel like it was something they wanted to get into. But the idea of combining design of spaces and the physical elements of the space with the management of the space, with doing events and activities in the space and doing that all under one sort of umbrella just wasn't making sense to a lot of people.

Max Musicant:
I ended up finding a nonprofit in North Minneapolis that was working to buying up and fixing up older buildings there. It seemed like I might be able to apply this approach in a similar way as I had done at my old job in Queens. So I joined them and it became clear after about nine months that it wasn't going to provide that opportunity, and so I left and I looked around. I was like, I'm a newly minted MBA and I'm unemployed and I know exactly what I want to do and that opportunity is not going to be given to me. So, I really did a gut check, and I was like, I feel so called into doing this work of creating more vibrant and vital public spaces that bring people together and where they can find their common humanity and support our public life and our private sector jobs and vitality.

Max Musicant:
I've only seen it done through governmental entities or these sort of district based nonprofits. I asked myself, well, is there any reason why I can't provide those same benefits and that same work as a third party service provider that could be hired by municipalities or business districts or real estate entities to activate their spaces to create a better human experience? And I was like, well, there's no reason why that shouldn't work. Then further, I'd seen that even in places that had these ... nonprofit entities that were providing these services, their services stopped at the property line, and that, so much of our experience in a city, in space is really shaped by how the privately owned buildings and spaces interact with the private realm or the public realm.

Max Musicant:
When we think about walking down the sidewalk, it's the quality of those buildings next to the sidewalk, which really makes it pleasant or not. So I said, it's like, no one is really talking directly to the commercial real estate industry about what they're doing with their common areas and their outdoor areas, specifically in big downtowns, so many of these sky scrapers have large plazas and atriums and common areas in the suburbs. They have lawns and parking spaces and atriums as well, whether it's office or industrial or retail. For the most part, those spaces weren't doing, the ones that I was seeing across the twin cities and the country, they weren't doing anybody any good.

Max Musicant:
The lawn was getting cut, trash was getting picked up, but the experience of being in these spaces was bland at best and usually a lot worse. I saw an opportunity of like, if we can talk and work with these property owners to show them that if they spend just a little bit more money on making these existing spaces better for their own tenants and guests and visitors, that that's going to make them a lot money because it's going to make the buildings much more desirable, and it's going to make just the experience being in the city, being in the space so much better for thousands and thousands of people that work in that building or visit that building in these spaces on a day-to-day basis. And It won't require any additional public funds because it'll be privately funded through the building. When I got to that step, I was like, that's a pretty good idea.

Chris Arnold:
Yeah. No, it makes a lot of sense. I think it makes so much sense. I have to imagine everyone listening is shaking their head and thinking, "Yeah, exactly. This makes perfect sense.” This mindset is really what got the gears turning with what would become the early days of The Musicant Group. I guess, before we move forward, I want you to be able to give the listeners really an overview of the work that your group takes on and how you describe that work.

Max Musicant:
Yeah, so The Musicant Group was established in 2012 and our mission and our service is to create places where people want to be. Through our work in doing this, we have found that the inputs into creating a place that people want to be is through the interaction and the relationship of the built environment, the care and management of that environment, and then the activities, uses and experiences that happen within that space. From that, we deliver services of design, onsite management and event planning, and then wrap them in a constantly iterative cycle of user engagement, analytics and then communication and marketing services to figure out what are those relationships with design management events that need to happen and continue to evolve for any given space. Right now, we have two different main lines of business or service that we provide.

Max Musicant:
We do ongoing events and activation and tenant engagement and public engagement for public spaces and common areas that are a part of about 6 million square feet of built space. Where we're putting on over 300 events a year and attracting over 10,000 people to our events over the course of, that was in 2019. Then the other half of our business is we take all those lessons that we get from being in those spaces on a day-to-day basis and planning the events and working through the operations and seeing the pain points and the opportunity areas. We take those lessons and are then able to provide design and planning services to municipalities, public agencies and real estate developers and designers around the creation and renovation of new spaces.

Max Musicant:
We work around the creation of plazas and parks and transit facilities, commercial districts, how you set the stage and how you create those and physical environments that will foster that activity that will create that value, and how to set up the operations and programming mechanisms and financing from the front-end so that the vision of all the concept drawings and of the ribbon cutting really meets reality. Then the third part is we take all the lessons from both of those things and we also deliver workshops and trainings and create free toolkits that people can use because we really believe strongly that the world that we want to see and live in, for that to exist, all this work can't be done just by professional consultants, but that everybody can and should really be participating in this work, so we try to give away the lessons and learnings that we generate from doing this for people to use in the context of their own work and life.

Chris Arnold:
Hey listeners, just a quick reminder that today's episode is brought to you by our firm, Authentic Form & Function. I wanted to let you know about an internal research project we recently completed where we analyzed the digital strategy of over 75 commercial real estate projects across multiple asset and project classes. We distilled this research into an eBook called The Real Estate Website Blueprint, which you can download for free on our website at authenticff.com/blueprint. In it, we provide several strategies and tactics you can use on your next project to better position in the market, increase project awareness and accelerate leasing. To download the eBook, be sure to visit authenticff.com/blueprint.

Chris Arnold:
Let me quickly turn back the clock and ask you what may be a funny question to you at this point, being 2020 now, but do you remember your first project?

Max Musicant:
I do, yes, very vividly. I decided to take the leap and start the business. I immediately tried to get to know as many people associated with large downtown office buildings that had really boring plazas in front of them. Through my networking, I got to know the owners of what is now called The Marq. It was called Marquette Plaza. Before that, it was the second iteration of the Federal Reserve in Minneapolis. It's an iconic building on the corner of Nicollet and Washington on the North side of downtown. It's known for having a structural suspension bridge like structure that actually holds the building up, and then it has a very large terrace or a terrace lawn in front of it, which is awkwardly known or named, I should say, Cancer Survivors Park, which as an aside was a pet project of the founder of H&R Block, tax services, and he created 25 plus cancer survivors parks throughout the country.

Max Musicant:
Also, serendipitously is my grandfather had, at point, one his sculptures outside in this plaza when it was the Federal Reserve, which has since moved to their new location. But oddly enough, I had a familial connection to the space already before we even started. What was unique about this building too, is that it was owned and operated by the same company, which doesn't always happen. That ended up being a really nice mix because they could realize the benefits from what we were doing. They gave us a very small amount of money without a contract and just said, "We believe in you and go for it. You got this relatively minuscule amount of funds, go for it." We looked out into the lawn and we saw that it's this beautiful lush space, but there was really no way to be out in it.

Max Musicant:
So, we deployed the most effective high ROI investment that we thought of, which is still probably the most effective thing for people to do if they're listening, is to add seeding and to add some games for people to play. People need to have a place to sit down and ideally some tables around them if they're going to stay in a space for very long. Ideally, they're movable, so they can move it around to configure them for different sizes of groups to be in the sun or the shade to have different views that they want. Then the games provide something for people to do. We deployed those out, and then we also launched a mini marketing campaign because we found out that people, even though it was a public space, people didn't know that they could actually use it.

Max Musicant:
In Minnesota, we're compulsive rule followers, and so people will hesitate to go on to do something unless they know they're allowed to. We had a marketing campaign that was like, that said, yes, you can sit here. It was all about giving people the permission to use the space. We deployed those tables and chairs and lawn games and have outdoor concerts and some outdoors fitness activities and the marketing campaign. We collected a lot of data, which going back to my innovation professor, it was such a key component to supporting that innovation. We found that from before we started to after we launched the initiative that we increased lunchtime usage of the space by 300%. That was step one and then we realized, how can we translate that increase in usage into an even more meaningful a piece of data that the office building owner will really like?

Max Musicant:
So, we decided to do a tenant survey and we found that because of these programs, people were happier to be in the office. They felt a stronger sense of community. It gave them a chance to connect with their colleagues more deeply. They're happier tenants, and funny enough, the number one thing that people like to do in the space more than anything else was to look at other people. All the activities we did were nice, but they've just created the venue for people to look at other people, which is social animals is what we love to do.

Chris Arnold:
That first project, it seems like really set the tone for the work that you do today on these larger projects. Maybe you can walk us through how that activation has changed and what your approach is today through this work, even on these larger projects.

Max Musicant:
Yeah, so the kernel of the idea is the same, but we've definitely gotten much more sophisticated in how we do it. I think a great example of how this process has matured is our involvement in One Discovery Square, which is an office building and center for medical research in Rochester that was developed by Mortenson in close collaboration and partnership with the Mayo Clinic. The Rochester, Minnesota and in partnership with the Mayo and State of Minnesota are going through this process called creating a Destination Medical Center where they're really looking to heighten the visitor experience and to have Rochester become a real hub, not just delivering medicine and having research, but having that medical research really grow and develop and support an ecosystem of medical businesses in that place. One Discovery Square is the first commercial building to be developed as part of that vision.

Max Musicant:
A big part of it is that half of the building is Mayo researchers and then half the building was reserved for other medical technology businesses and startups. There was a large array of common areas on all four floors of the building that were set aside in order to facilitate the social interactions and collaboration between people within those companies, but then also really important between the Mayo and those other private companies, and then further to connect the Mayo to just the surrounding community and to have this building be the fertile wetland or intermediate ground where all the different, the community, the Mayo and the entrepreneurship community can all come together.

Max Musicant:
That's a pretty tall order. We were brought on, in addition to the design team, as a common area consultant. We worked with the developer and the designers to really map out, what are those experiences that need to happen in this space? Both from the perspective of the Mayo tenants but also the other medical technology tenants and then the broader community. Then from that, define list of experiences, reverse engineering, what are the ways to deliver those? There's no single method, but thinking about the interplay and the different options of delivering it through the building itself and the big moves of walls and space, through furniture, through equipment, through utilities, through programming, through other merchandising and retail, to as minute as where do the outlets go, and where is the bathroom arrangement?

Max Musicant:
Mapping that out, that then gave the owner a really nimble playbook in order to make decisions as the design process moved along in that if a certain experience can be delivered through the architecture, that they could then build in a flexible mechanism through what furniture they bought or then how they bandaged the building after the ribbon cutting. Once that building was open, we were then awarded the contract to serve as the community manager for that space, and so that entails that we are responsible for putting on two to three events a week plus serving as the venue manager for third party rentals of the space and the conference areas, and then also doing marketing and promotion, an outreach from the building.

Max Musicant:
Being really kind of the heart and soul of that space and making sure that the space is really truly emotionally and realistically connected to all the different entities around within the building and surrounding it. We've now been doing that programming and community management in the space since April of last year and it's just been an amazing success. We're now averaging almost four events a week, half of which are our own, half of which are being rented by other parties where the Mayo and the chambers of commerce and other medical technology organizations are wanting to have their own meetings and gatherings and conferences in this space because of the activity and the energy there, and the programs that we're offering span the whole range of focusing on, we have a taco about innovation program, which combines people's love of tacos and entrepreneurship and innovation.

Max Musicant:
We host 1 million cups, which is another entrepreneurship program. Then we also have a weekly, what we call right-brain series, which focuses on creativity and art. It gives people that release away from the quantitative and the computer base to open themselves up and get inspired for new ideas to connect with other people. We also curate whiteboards all around the space with different questions and queries around science and chemistry and math to spur other conversations in community and we also have a monthly happy hour, which is becoming a go-to event in the Rochester Community overall.

Chris Arnold:
A note that I wrote down from one of our earliest conversations, it's a quote that you had that I really like, and I think it resonates with exactly what you're talking about here, is these spaces, these places of what are now activations, it's not just the place for rent paying tenants, but it's meant to be an event venue space that the community can come into, which actually is a benefit to the tenants at the end of the day as well. I love that sort of like give and take almost like exhale, inhale methodology that you bring to these projects.

Max Musicant:
Yeah, I think these days there's a craving for community and connection. It's easy for us to have privacy to have exclusivity, for us to be alone, and we certainly all need some of that time. But in part because of all the technology we're around and the nature of how work is changing, those organic, serendipitous social interactions are not happening nearly as much as I think that we as humans want them to have. Being able to create and curate those opportunities and experiences, events and physical spaces where people can and do come together and can connect, or just even be alone together around each other, is just invaluable. I think that, we'll see in real estate and in other spaces that the private exclusivity as a key feature is going to start to be, and already is being replaced with a focus and emphasis on community and connection and the value of being in a building that the community wants to be in as a real feature and certainly not as a negative.

Chris Arnold:
Let's actually use that as a nice segue as we begin to wrap up. I want to hear from you about what you see in the future and maybe what's in the cards for The Musicant Group as you look ahead over the next few years. Definitely continue to riff off that theme you just started with there.

Max Musicant:
Yeah. Well, I think that there's this idea of space as a service, which I think will continue to build momentum, and we've seen this in the software world of going from software as a product to software as a service, as a subscription agency or a subscription model. We're starting to see that in real estate too with the rise of coworking, which is short-term leases, there's high service provision. Now, I don't think that all the spaces will go into being coworking, but I do think that people who own and control space will need to be able to have a much closer relationship with the people that are using their spaces as tenants and as guests, and that they will really need to be a much closer partner in the success of those organizations through creating environments and managing those environments in a way that really advances and fulfills the wellbeing of the people in them and thus in the organizations that are there.

Max Musicant:
Now, the way that that's done, it's still to be determined. So, one of the things that we're working on at The Musicant Group is to create a new model of property management that takes what we do around community building and tenant engagement and being hand in glove service providers with human resources departments of the people in the buildings where we serve and combines that with the core property management service of facility management, accounting and risk management. We think that that's going to be a really potent combination. It's something that owners of real estate are really wanting and certainly the tenants of buildings are really wanting a lot more too.

Chris Arnold:
I want to ask you as we start to wrap up here, as I said, I'm really curious to take your knowledge and your expertise and reflect that onto others that are doing really inspiring, unique work in the world. I'm curious if you have a couple people or a few businesses that you can shine a light on that listeners, including myself, can go dig into a little bit more.

Max Musicant:
Yeah, I think there are two companies I find really inspiring. One is Goldman Properties, which at this point, is now most closely associated with the Wynwood District in South Beach Area of Miami. But prior to that, they were very involved in downtown Philadelphia and in SoHo, New York. It's just a great example of an owner that takes a very long-term interest in a neighborhood, invest heavily in the experience of that overall neighborhood and does an incredible job of integrating the creative community and the sort of soul of the neighborhood into what they do. The biggest example of what they've done in Wynwood, Miami is to buy up 20 single story, nondescript cement warehouses, and then invite the best graffiti artists from around the world to do full building size pieces on all their buildings.

Max Musicant:
It is now, not only an international destination for building sized art, but I think, even more importantly, it's created a culture in that neighborhood for the other building owners that they need to embed their structures with that art and creativity in community. Not that everyone should go out and start painting giant graffiti art on all their buildings, but I think it's a great lesson of really investing in the long-term of a building to embedding it with the community, the creativity and working closely with the neighborhood.

Max Musicant:
Two, there's a company called Shift Capital out of Philadelphia, and one of the owners is a former classmate of mine at Yale School of Management, and they are doing some incredible things around creating affordable housing and economic opportunity in low income areas of Philadelphia and really embedding themselves in the neighborhood involving the residents in the success and the life of their buildings, and doing very innovative things like having an on-staff social worker as part of their property management service as a way, obviously to make the lives of their tenants better, but also for their own bottom line, reducing tenant turnover and participating in the shared success of people's lives and thus their ability to pay rent and have stable, safe places to live.

Max Musicant:
It's incredible work, which I think is really inspiring. Then, also I think Guerrilla Development out of Portland is doing really interesting work around small-scale development, mostly commercial and showing how you can make more money and do more interesting projects by doing one story lot line to lot line development versus the four or five stick-built over one story of cement that requires a whole headache of capital management and development management, etc. It's a model that I think is much more accessible to people and also amazing. He makes his performance public and downloadable off of their website. A great resource for people to check out as they're thinking about doing their own thing.

Chris Arnold:
Yeah, that's a great tip. We'll link all of these in our podcast notes, and actually, Guerrilla Development was one of our earliest guests on the podcast. We'll link back to that podcast as well. Max, thank you so much for joining me today. There's just one more thing to do, and it involves rolling out the red carpet for you my friend. Tell the world what you're up to and where they can find you online.

Max Musicant:
Yes. Thank you so much. This has been a real treat, and we'd certainly love to engage with anyone and everyone who's interested in this practice and doing it themselves or having us help them out. You can find us on the web at musicantgroup.com. If you go to the tab, Free Ideas, you can download our free toolkits where we tell you how we do what we do, so you can do it in your own life. You can also follow us on Instagram or connect with us on LinkedIn. If you're ever in Minneapolis, St. Paul area, drop us a line or shoot us a note.

Chris Arnold:
Max, thanks so much for joining me today.

Max Musicant:
Thank you so much. It's been great.

Chris Arnold:
Transforming Cities is brought to you by Authentic Form & Function, the digital design and development team that just might be a perfect fit for your next urban project. If you're a new listener, you can follow along at authenticff.com/transformingcities, or you can simply subscribe through your favorite apps, including iTunes, Spotify or Stitcher. Thanks for joining us.

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