BOMA Edmonton – Building Excellence that is Making a Difference

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In the recent issue of Business In Edmonton, BOMA Edmonton president, Lisa Baroldi, discusses the significant role that the organization has had in enhancing building performance, sustainability, and community engagement while advocating for industry diversity and economic recovery.

When we think of corporations that drive business, warehouses that interplay with logistics, airports that move people and retail where people shop, we often think – and deservedly so – of the people inside the walls. The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) is focused on the buildings that stand as a silent partner to the innovation, decision making, livelihoods and careers within the commercial spaces that make up our cities.

“Buildings matter to our cities. High-performing commercial buildings and property management teams enhance tenant experience and drive results for investors. When your building is smart, sustainable, healthy and operating at its best – and you combine that with a stellar team of people overseeing that building – you produce optimal results for your portfolio and for your community.”

Established in 1907, BOMA is a global network of hundreds of local commercial real estate  associations representing commercial property professionals including owners, managers, service providers and more in major cities around the world. BOMA is committed to all types of commercial buildings such as offices, industrial spaces, medical facilities and mixed-use properties. The brand is synonymous with The BOMA Standard Methods of Measurement referenced in commercial leasing agreements. BOMA is also renowned for driving building performance through initiatives such as The Outstanding Building of the Year (TOBY®) award and BOMA BEST sustainable, smart and healthy building certifications.

“BOMA BEST originated in Canada as a green building certification solution for cost savings and reducing water, energy and emissions for buildings,” says Baroldi. “BOMA BEST buildings have 13.8 per cent higher resale value, 7 per cent higher rents and 3.5 per cent lower vacancy. They emit 35 per cent less on average than non-BOMA BEST buildings.”

She continues, “BOMA BEST 4.0 includes sustainable, smart and healthy audits and optimization plans—it’s going to be huge. It will have a major impact on building decarbonization and optimization in North America and beyond as owners in Mexico and China are also certifying their buildings. Canadian buildings won over half of the TOBY awards at the recent BOMA International conference in Kansas City largely because BOMA BEST forces ownership and management teams to really know their buildings well and to be innovative when it comes to operations and management.

“I’m proud to say that HSBC Place in downtown Edmonton won the coveted and highly competitive international TOBY award in Kansas this year. It’s the first win in three decades for an Edmonton office tower.”

Baroldi goes on to note, “Did you know that real estate, both residential and commercial, is the second-largest contributor to Alberta’s GDP after oil and gas? Did you know that there are many diverse careers in this industry, or that our members contribute a ton to charitable causes? My job at BOMA is to be a voice of the industry, to share what is great about us with the rest of the world, and to be a part of the solutions to the issues we face as an industry and as cities. On the advocacy front, we ask others to look to us as partners. We seek a seat at the table for the issues that impact us and what our members do best, which is city building.”

Baroldi points out why it is important to think of buildings as communities, saying, “I work in EPCOR Tower where on any given day there can be 2,000 people. That is the size of a small town. Just like a town, the tower requires maintenance, strategies and policies, security and different people in different careers to make the building run. When you look closely, you see the diversity and how building management really takes all kinds of people. What I love about BOMA is that we are where the boardroom meets the boiler room.”

Baroldi lights up when she speaks of this inclusive nature of BOMA, “I grew up working in sawmills, living rural and then explored the world by living in major cities and sitting around the boardroom table with people who make billion-dollar investment decisions. I’m at ease in these worlds and see how symbiotic they are. The people in this industry are talented and wonderful, and I feel lucky to work with them and learn daily.”

“When I started,” she continues, “the board was clear that we needed to collaborate with other associations in our industry and with government and other groups in economic development and the community to produce tangible results in four key areas: (1) building excellence (2) fair and equitable taxation and regulations (3) diversified and educated talent (4) safe communities and vibrant economies. For me, this meant reaching out to all kinds of different partners and experts, some of whom had little or no relationship with BOMA before. That deeper and wider collaboration has paid off. Since I joined BOMA, BOMA BEST has grown, and we have stopped legislative changes that would have created unfair taxes for the Alberta business community.

“With respect to diverse and educated talent, we have an incredibly dynamic and engaged group of professionals under 40 years of age focused on recruiting new talent to commercial real estate. With an aging workforce and some of the highest ratios of Baby Boomers to emerging leaders of all industries, emerging talent is critical for our industry’s future. Our emerging leaders have brought in 35 new youth and student members into BOMA. To produce tangible results on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), we partnered with REET Institute to expose 18 BIOPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) youth to the industry through experiential learning and we are working with two fantastic Indigenous employment and training organizations—Oteenow and Tribal Chiefs Employment and Training—to train 15 Indigenous people in property management and building operations, while also providing cultural awareness and Indigenous engagement opportunities to our members who are building owners and managers. As our partners say, ‘it’s a two-way street’, and I truly believe that.”

BOMA Edmonton is active on safe communities and vibrant economies, too. The organization was one of the first to meet with the mayor and with provincial ministers on the topic of downtown safety and vibrancy and has promoted the merits of the office for corporate culture, economic and social vibrancy and employee wellness. BOMA is a strong proponent of more supports to deal with crises around mental health, addictions, housing and other social concerns. Thanks to City of Edmonton funding, BOMA Edmonton conducted primary research to fully understand the front-line experiences and increased costs facing property managers and tenants.

When Baroldi started at BOMA, it was during the height of the pandemic. Downtown was a ghost town and all over the province, economic recovery was top of mind. Former Minister Doug Schweitzer established the Edmonton Metro Region Economic Recovery (EMRER) Working Group and appointed industry representatives to shape a recovery action plan for the Edmonton region. Baroldi chaired the group along with Searle Turton, MLA for Spruce Grove-Stony Plain, and Malcolm Bruce, President and CEO of Edmonton Global.

“I’m passionate about what Edmonton and what Alberta have to offer the world. Now that a proper recovery action plan for our region is in place, we are sharing it with government and business leaders. It’s something we all can and should get behind. The EMRER report is 100 per cent the way forward and, honestly, we are still in recovery in so many ways in many industries,” explains Baroldi.

Currently, one of the most exciting things for BOMA Edmonton is the opportunity to host the BOMEX, BOMA Canada’s National Building Excellence Summit, from September 26-28, 2023 at the J.W. Marriott ICE District.

BOMEX is in its 33rd year and travels from city to city. BOMEX 2023 will be the first time that Edmonton hosts since the mid 1990s and thanks to the BOMEX team of staff, partners and volunteers, BOMEX Edmonton broke records and sold out two months prior.

Benjamin L. Shinewald, President & CEO of BOMA Canada, says, “This annual conference is returning to Edmonton after a 20-year absence – and what a moment to return, at long last! Our partners at BOMA Edmonton have convened an extraordinary few days that shows off everything from the spectacular ICE District to the landmark West Edmonton Mall to the majestic Rocky Mountains. Throughout, the education and content will be buttressed by real-world examples from the surrounding buildings – buildings as impressive as any I have ever seen. BOMEX 2023 is sold out months in advance and we are already asking ourselves, ‘what took us so long to return to Edmonton?’”

More than 450 guests will attend BOMEX and about 70 per cent of those guests are from outside the city. Baroldi notes that when BOMA Canada came to Edmonton to scout the city and help set up the conference, the representatives were very impressed to see the beautiful city and its amenities and to see the robust support for BOMEX provided by the City of Edmonton, Explore Edmonton, Edmonton Global, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and more.

“Together with BOMA Canada, we have put together an incredible program, and we are grateful to everyone who has had a hand in making this event possible here in our great city,” Baroldi says with excitement. “We are taking the summit outside of the conference room to showcase Jasper and our region through city and building tours. Attendees from across North America will enjoy speakers such as Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser, four-time Olympic gold medalist and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame; Shawn Kanungo, innovation strategist and bestselling author; Ryan Jespersen, the event’s emcee and the host of Real Talk; Bryce Starlight, Vice President of Taza Development Corp, the company behind the largest First Nations owned development in North America and more. Edmonton is an amazing place to host these world-class events. The stats are speaking for themselves.”

She pauses to reflect on how the city, and the province, deliver in so many ways to the people living here.

“The Alberta advantage is the drive of the people and the diversity. There are key things that make us attractive economically but when people come here, they are charmed. Like commercial real estate, Alberta is often misunderstood, too. People unfamiliar with us don’t understand how complex we are. Then when they get here, their jaws drop. ‘The first mosque in Canada was in Alberta? You have renewable energy innovations and top medical research in Alberta? There is a JW Marriott in Edmonton? I feel like I’m in Singapore!’ are just some of the things they say.

“We have the opportunity to expose people to who we really are. All the time the conversation I’m having in Ontario, Dubai, BC, etc., is working against the narrative of what people think about us, or the fact that they might not think about us at all. We have a lot of work to do in championing who we are and how diverse we are. Oil and gas are key, but energy has helped make us stronger in so many other areas. Commercial real estate is one of those areas and it touches every other industry. It is all connected.”