Nienkerk thrives in busy management environment

To many people, managing two Class A office properties with over 550,000 square feet in the Denver Tech Center would be a daunting responsibility. Managing a family of four children, ranging from five-year-old twins to a freshman in college, is another full-time, overwhelming job. On top of that, throw in a revolving door of foster puppies and board member responsibilities for a corporate office association, and you’ve got a day in the life of Michelle Nienkerk.

Nienkerk manages an office property at 7979 E. Tufts Ave. in the Denver Tech Center, and another one, ParkRidge 4, near Lincoln Avenue and Interstate 25. She works for Lowe Enterprises Real Estate Group, which is a partner in the Tufts Avenue property and manages ParkRidge 4 on behalf of Principal Financial Group. This means the 10-year Lowe Enterprises veteran has two assets, two ownerships and two different accounting platforms.

When you step into Nienkerk’s office, you’ll notice stacks of binders and organized piles of paper, all necessary to keep the inner workings of both properties operating smoothly. However, despite the amount of paperwork, the office remains clean and uncluttered, which mimics Nienkerk’s overall approach to management: organized and efficient.

Family photo

Michelle Nienkerk with husband, Jayson, and kids, Tyler, 19, Colton, 16, twins Jacob and Keelie, 5

“I like the busy lifestyle,” she said. “It makes every day interesting and different. It is never the same day as you’ve had before; it just doesn’t happen.”

With her calm, quiet approach, Nienkerk is behind the scenes of every major decision affecting the two properties. The property off Lincoln is 100 percent leased, which meant she had to give up her on-site office when one of her tenants wanted to expand. The property has very little turnover and is easy to manage, she said.

The Tufts property, acquired in 2014, is more active. Since acquisition, most of Nienkerk’s time has been devoted to demolishing, upgrading and attracting new tenants.

“I knew the game plan for the building during due diligence,” she said. “The plan was already set in place so we were ready to hit the ground running the moment we closed, which was a new experience for me.”

In the past 18 months, Nienkerk replaced tiles, carpets, doors, paneling, ceilings and more. She oversaw updates to the bathrooms, elevators and main entrance and completely remodeled the lobby. She also redesigned the deli and added a tenant lounge and Starbucks kiosk, in addition to building a fitness center in order to improve the building’s amenities. Lowe Enterprises is working with Xcel Energy on a dual-feed project that will ensure the building keeps power even if one power feed goes out.

“You almost forget all that you did,” she said as she flipped through photos of the property before and after the updates. “We’re always trying to do things that will make the building better.”

In 2016, Nienkerk and her team will create a game room in the tenant lounge area. She also plans to continue with cosmetic updates and upgrades throughout the building. The ParkRidge property will see updates as well as the building strives for LEED for Existing Building Gold or Silver certification. The property is Energy Star rated.

In addition to the general building updates, a major push for the Tufts property will focus on leasing. One big tenants moved out in 2015, dropping occupancy to 65 percent. Nienkerk’s goal is to help the asset get to 80 percent occupancy, which hopefully will include some large tenants, she said.

With new tenants comes more construction projects. But even before tenants sign their leases, Nienkerk is working with them. “I’m involved in the preleasing to help figure out what makes the deal work,” she said. “Each step is a group effort so instead of being thrown in after the lease is signed, I get to know the tenant before everything starts.”

This opportunity to establish a relationship with her tenants early on is one of her favorite parts of working for Lowe Enterprises, and something her tenants notice. For example, she’s overseeing construction on a space for a tenant who she managed at a previous building, which then followed Nienkerk to the new property once its old lease was up.

One reason for this tenant loyalty is the protection and fairness she provides the members of her building. This was on display during a phone conversation with a fiber infrastructure provider. “They don’t want to pay; they want to pass the fees off to the tenant,” she said. “That’s not fair. They’re my tenants, and I’m not going to give this company something that is at the expense of my tenants, even if the tenant agreed to pay it.”

The native Iowan’s loyalty extends to her team as well. The day porter has worked with Nienkerk for five years, moving properties with her several times. “I look out for her and make sure she goes with me because she’s part of my team,” Nienkerk said.

Nienkerk attributes a lot of her success to the confidence her employers and clients have instilled in her. “I’ve been empowered by my employer to figure it out and get things done,” she said. “Them having that trust in me makes a difference. I have a lot more freedom than I would at most companies.”

She’s most proud of her ability to adapt and stay focused, while being pulled in three different directions at one time, she said. And her positive attitude undoubtedly helps her succeed. “I can’t think of one thing that I have to do that I hate, or else I wouldn’t be doing it,” she said. “It’s really fun. I get exposed to so many things I would never do if I had a different job.”

Lowe Enterprises encourages a strong work-life balance, which Nienkerk is thankful to have, she said. In addition to running a household of six, Nienkerk does the accounting for her husband’s residential remodeling business. And as self-proclaimed dog lover, she recently began fostering dogs from a local rescue operation.

“I was a little scared to get a dog again because you never know with dogs and kids, so I said we’d foster one, but ended up with two,” she said. “For a while we had one group right after the other. It’s pretty addicting.”

One of the pups in the third group, a mutt named Tank, found a lasting spot in the Nienkerk family. “I fall in love with all of them and cry every time I have to give them up, but it gets easier,” she said. “It’s a really great way to help dogs and realize if you’re ready to have one.”

Michelle Askeland is the quarterlies editor handling the Property Management Quarterly, Multifamily Properties Quarterly, Office Properties Quarterly and Retail Properties Quarterly publications for the Colorado Real Estate Journal. Prior to joining the CREJ, Michelle was the managing editor at RadioResource Media Group, where she helped publish a monthly domestic magazine and a quarterly international magazine…