Mark Kooyman
6 min readSep 4, 2023


Office Highrises Becoming Ghost Towns Demanding Creative Thinking

I had a great session with a creative film director this past week.

He is based out of Jersey City and my organic pet food retail client with stores in New Jersey was in the Zoom session too.

The film director shared how his production process was all driven around filming the “emotions of the brand experience” — the film director’s words… not mine — and how we can capture those emotions more in the filming and less in factual copy.

There are few of those film directors left.

But what the creative film director said next made me laugh.

When I asked about voice-over preference for the filming, he quickly said that the hot new trend is to have the voice-over be done using AI.

He went on to say that you can request a gender, tone and personality and all that is done is that copy is converted over to Voice Over on the MacBook.

He then added that there are no talent and usage fees with AI.

Those who follow this blog know that I am not one that believes AI will take over.

Washington will intervene on just how much of a role AI can play in the marketplace and soon customers will make it known to the brands who abuse the use of it.

There are many sources housed in New York to Washington to Seattle to Silicon Valley to LA who are convinced that AI will soon take over the need to employ real live people.

I will add Detroit to where those sources are housed next.

The UAW is highlighting less value placed on UAW Workers as Detroits shifts from gas guzzlers to electric vehicles.

Not only will there be less need for the gas station-convenience stores, there will be less need for assembly workers. Electric vehicles need less human workers and rely more on automation.

The American workplace is going through upheaval right now and high tech is only part of the reason for the shift.

This weekend, the New York Times dedicated the entire Sunday Business section to press stories focused around the vacant office space in Manhattan and the challenge ahead with what to do with the space.

The section kicks off with a lead headline posing the question, “What happens if the nearly 100 million square feet of workplace real estate in New York City remains unused?”

Less than 41% of the office space in New York City is at the capacity level it was pre-pandemic in 2018.

The Times reports just 9% of the city’s office workers are going into the office all five days of a week.

And if you think that management will next demand that everyone returns to the office 9–5, 5 days a week… think again. There still are 3 times as many job openings in corporate staff as there are people to fill them.

Some of the office owners are getting ready to default on the loans and let the banks take the buildings over.

Others are exploring converting the office buildings into housing, hotels and retail space.

Readers, this is not something that is only being experienced in New York City. Hybrid work schedules and working remote is taking place coast-to-coast.

Here in Atlanta where my company is based, most of the office Mecca like Midtown and Buckhead and Perimeter are posting less than 50% of the office space at capacity levels pre-pandemic.

Yes, there are folks going into the office a couple of days a week, but corporations are beginning to look at the numbers and leasing those whole floors in those high-rises complete with parking costs and utilities just does not make sense.

When I was with a group of community leadership discussing the next wave of development and growth, a mayor from a nearby city asked me my advice on what to do with a mall located in her city boundaries.

I worked with Vanderbilt Healthcare to take over a mall and create a health services center complete with an organic Farmer’s Market in Nashville. I also served the Mayor of Athens Georgia in leading a panel to assess the conversion of a regional mall located in the Classic City to a combination live-work-play-shop destination.

Just like what some in New York are considering doing with housing, hotels and retail space, those office Meccas may soon be filing for city-hood.

Last week, the Wall Street Bureau published an article on how corporations are being challenged with fading corporate affiliation and loyalty among “Millennials.”

My immediate thought was I would be very careful in labeling the audience group of waning loyalty to be “Millennials” as an individual group.

Millennials today make up 60% of the workforce in America. That just might be a topline observation when the true catalyst of waning corporate loyalty has more to do with the waining time in the office and the lack of the corporate HR departments to understand the new paradigm taking shape.

Those daily Email updates are just not going to work especially where there is a void of high touch and an over abundance of mobile high tech.

As many of you know, EXPERIENCE used to be housed in a very cool, historic Atlanta neighborhood called Inman Park. We not only had our office located in the ‘hood, but we also participated in community outreach and area planning and development.

Back in 2017, I reluctantly closed down the office.

A real estate developer purchased the building where we were housed , tore the building down and built an apartment complex in its place. One that was 8 stories tall versus the 2 story building we called home.

We continued to have meetings in the ‘hood.

We set up a deal where we found a way to get access to a meeting room that was part of a brew pub just a couple blocks over from the old office building.

Where I am living now outside of Atlanta in Athens, there is only one option for co-working space and its very, very small. They can serve up to 10 people and right now there is a waiting list to get access to it.

Where many of us go today are the coffee houses. And coffee houses are springing up right and left.

Someone asked me what facilitated the drive-thru windows at the coffee houses — Starbucks included — and I replied that there was limited space available inside for customers to access because too many office ex-Pats are using the space as their office.

If you don’t think that is true, the next time you go into a coffee house, check out how many sitting in the coffee house are working on laptops.

If a person wants to just check Emails while waiting for their $9 Latte Venti, they would be doing it on their smart phone… not their laptop.

So will the downtowns and office Mecca become main streets of ghost towns?


My prediction says that we will see some interesting evolutions of those neighborhoods. As more banks take over the office high-rises, more developers will re-imagine the use of the space.

Just as malls are being re-purposed, re-engineered and architecturally transformed, we will see the same thing happen to the downtown high-rises.

We will also see small towns become revived and refurbished.

Here are a couple of things that I think will surface in the next 12–18 months…

  1. More warehouse, storage and manufacturing plants will transform into office-workplace hubs
  2. Live-work-play will expand into small town downtowns and town squares
  3. More coffee houses will expand with a conference room / meeting room space
  4. More office buildings will expand with coffee houses and cafes
  5. Cafes and coffee houses will offer access to their internet and table space for monthly membership fees
  6. Day care will get integrated into the space use too with timeout times for parents and kids to check-in
  7. Operational management will involve more travel time and less time in the board rooms … which might be called “bored rooms” next … and the travel will not be out-of-town, but between the hubs which make up their office matrix
  8. Hand-made, local assembly, personal signature will become a new trend rage
  9. Wall Street will become Main Street as more and more corporations dis-assemble
  10. Local will replace global in what’s hot and what’s not

Yes, AI can be used as voice over for ad production, but we will soon learn the value of personally knowing that local spokesperson.

And that spokesperson might have way more meaning to the opportunity customer group than the sound, tone and personality of what AI can produce.

And as wacky as Millennials can sometimes appear — and God save us from the GenZers and their tattoos — my suggestion is get a group together around a table, cook up some homemade cookies using locally milled flour and free-range chicken eggs and ask them to creatively brainstorm what the heck can be done with all that empty office space.

You just might have an Aha-experience … one far better than what AI can create!

Here is a link to the one of the NY Times articles….



Mark Kooyman

CEO & Discovery Chief at EXPERIENCE Insight Group, Inc. In the business to discover and craft brand experiences that humans seek out and engage in.