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Heritage/Character Buildings: Things to look out for when leasing

The combined appeal of high ceilings, exposed brick and timber finishes, abundant natural light and strong and prominent façade features are a combination highly sought-after by many business owners looking to secure themselves a new office within the Brisbane CBD.

Although commercial heritage buildings in Brisbane are somewhat lacking in quantity compared to Australia’s other major cities and central business districts, Brisbane’s CBD holds around 25 buildings which can be classified as heritage or contain varying degrees of heritage features throughout.

This article aims to educate and guide prospective tenants on common pitfalls you may encounter when leasing heritage buildings and how to ensure you choose the best building for your given requirement.

Heritage vs Character buildings:

Before continuing, it’s important to note the distinction between heritage listed buildings and buildings with heritage features as not being the same. Unfortunately, not as easy to simply search the state heritage register for all available heritage buildings, once buildings are added to this register, the process of developing and/or implementing improvements becomes very difficult requiring many approvals and consultation with both council and the public. For this reason, many landlords who may wish to develop their buildings in the future actively avoid their assets being added to such registers or labelled “Heritage” and therefore, technically aren’t heritage buildings and often referred to as “Character” instead.

Supporting Staff and Ensuring your building aligns with your business’s values:

With each individual business operating differently requiring diverse requirements to satisfy both their employees and customers alike, prospective tenants need to ensure they choose a building which adequately reflects both their company and its culture, facilitating both the comfort of staff and the perception of its clients. Heritage buildings help businesses stand out and what better way to showcase this then occupying a space unlike the traditional office building. Aside from the physical appearance reflecting the business values, many companies have become more socially conscious and have put greater emphasis on portraying themselves as socially and environmentally progressive. Aligning a business culture or vision with its premises has long been used as a tool to project a message to others which is becoming ever more prevalent in current corporate agendas.

Common Pitfalls associated with Heritage/ Character buildings:

Based on the simple reality that almost all heritage/character buildings are old, without regular and often intensive capital expenditure, many of these buildings services and amenities fall behind when compared to their modern commercial counterparts. In an age (post COVID) where many employers are trying to reignite company cultures, team building and cohesion through incentivising staff back into the office, amongst many other positives, heritage style buildings often portray a more relaxed and inviting working environment similar to a home office through benefits of natural light, high ceilings and soft finishes   instead of classically harsh bright lights, long corridors and cubicle style workstations more prevalent in conventional modern office buildings.

Despite many benefits, listed below are a few things to consider when considering a heritage building as your new premises.


As most heritage buildings utilised external hoists to get goods above ground level and stairs for people access, architects at the time of construction weren’t thinking of creating allowances for multiple elevator shafts large enough to fit both an adequately sized lift cart and the associated required services. For this reason, these buildings are often limited to only a single small often slower elevator compared to other modern buildings. Although less of a problem as these buildings are usually smaller with less levels, when new fit outs are being built, without the utilisation of a service lift, this single elevator doubles for both staff and building contractors which can cause congestion at busy periods.

The upshot here is that commonly the fire stairs are nicely dressed and more easily accessible and well-lit compared to modern buildings.

End Of Trip Facilities

As End of Trip Facilities (EOTF)  become more and more popular (see our: EOT article), the “lifestyle” allure of heritage/ character buildings often attracts tenants who also seek flexibility around their commute to work. Again, with the fact that these buildings simply don’t have the ability or space available to construct such facilities, it’s rare to find a quality facility which if available will more likely be a single shower for the whole building or one per floor.

Additionally, as most of these buildings required retro-fitted toilets, many buildings have a very limited number available and in particular disabled toilets which makes 9B (Education) Certification very difficult (see our: 9B Certification article)

Alternatives to no EOTF are available and include using a local gym’s facilities or other communal options as per the below link: https://cycle2city.com.au/

Car Parking/ Deliveries Access

Similar to the above two points, large multi-level carparks are next to non-existent in heritage/ character buildings. Whilst some buildings in the City Fringe may have an open-air availability to park somewhere onsite, if available, CBD assets are usually reduced to a single level of often tight smaller bays designed for smaller cars only and with limited clearance heights. With the abundance of car parking availability through third party providers in the CBD, this issue can easily be overcome (see our: CBD Car Parking Guide) If larger deliveries are required, these will usually have to be done through the front door and elevator as conventional loading docks are not common, also meaning delivery drivers may have to park further away from the building itself.

Make Good, Building a Fit Out

More prevalent with buildings that are listed on a heritage register, any internal fit out changes or amendments often have to be checked over by both the landlord and a third-party contractor to ensure that the fundamental character aspects are still intact/ present.

Included in this is when a fit out is being built, the often-higher ceilings require additional materials increasing both fit out costs and time compared to regular commercial buildings.

A small number of landlords of heritage/character buildings will also require tenants to perform a full make-good at the end of their term, returning their fit out to its base building condition and complying with all heritage checks.

Building Services and Amenities

Aside from internet connectivity issues through thick walls, quality building mechanics most notable air-conditioning is often faulted as the worst performing service in heritage/ character buildings. It’s important to ensure that the buildings internal services have been regularly updated and are in good working order before committing to a particular building.

Disabled access is also something often not possible in many heritage buildings with limited ability to retrofit ramps or wheelchair elevators. In some instances, special access through a ground floor tenancy/ carpark can be arranged to allow wheelchair access although should be considered if this will be a requirement of the business.

With the above not intended to scare prospective tenants away from heritage/character buildings, it outlines an importance of looking past the attractive looking façades and inspecting the buildings in greater depth identifying if the building really does suit more than the visual appeal. If you still have questions on a particular building, Caden’s leasing team are perfectly positioned to give additional insider information on each building and its advantages and potential shortcomings.

For our personal selection of the better commercial Heritage/ Character buildings in Brisbane’s CBD, please see the below list (in no particular order) which we feel best encapsulate the above elements.

  • 232 Adelaide St
  • 283 Elizabeth St
  • 171 Edward St
  • 109 Edward St
  • 293 Queen St
  • 414 George St
  • 235 Edward St
  • 99 Creek St
  • 33 Queen St
  • 2 Edward St
  • 414 George St
  • 484 & 489 Adelaide St
  • 549 Queen Street

Not sure how much office space you need? Our calculator could help.