- Real Estate
Built piecemeal over the course of several decades in the mid-to-late 20th century, the Chelmsford Cross Roads at Route 129 in Massachusetts is a classic example of an aging American suburban office park.
With its easy access to I-495 and Route 3, abundant space for parking, and self-contained buildings, it is not difficult to see why the office park was popular during its heyday, a time when office workers and executives often preferred the uniformity and spaciousness of the suburban office campus over the chaos of the city. Understandably, the shift of jobs from downtown office buildings to corporate campuses largely occurred in concert with the suburbanization of the residents who worked there.
Fast forward a quarter century and this trend has all but reversed itself, with the most innovative and talent-driven companies seeking office locations that offer their employees interesting, high-quality, and often urban environments with access to food, retail, fitness amenities, and public transit within walking distance. Changing philosophies about what constitutes a high-productivity work environment, coupled with shrinking office space needs enabled by telecommuting, means that the prototypical sprawling 1980s office park has lost its edge.
In 2018, the Cross Roads exemplified the issues that suburban office parks from that era were experiencing around the country. Over the last decade, the park experienced chronic vacancies, with the overall vacancy rate at 16% and office space vacancies at 28%. With the park’s office inventory dominated by Class B quality space and lower, office properties at the Cross Roads are largely overlooked by potential tenants who have their pick of more appealing suburban space throughout the region.
Complicating the picture is the sheer number of different property owners within the office park. Several dozen property owners are acting according to different interests and with varying levels of investment — both financial and emotional — in the community.
The Cross Roads was at a crossroads when the Town of Chelmsford, through a grant from MassDevelopment, hired Camoin Associates to complete a market analysis and strategy to reposition the office park for a new era. Informed by research, data analysis, a full inventory of buildings and tenants, stakeholder interviews, case studies, and close collaboration with Town staff, the project team devised a set of eight recommendations aimed at setting the Cross Roads up for success:
- Pursue a signature development project.
- Develop a network of stakeholders to lead efforts to transform the park.
- Build public-private partnerships and implement other funding structures to fund initiatives.
- Develop a coordinated marketing strategy for the park.
- Undertake physical improvements to promote a cohesive identity for the park.
- Continue to adapt zoning and other regulations to respond to market needs.
- Conduct regular outreach to businesses.
- Design and implement a business attraction program aimed at companies in the targeted industry clusters (Life Sciences, Information Technology, Professional Services, and Advanced Manufacturing).
Following the initial market analysis and strategy, our team has worked closely over the last several years with Lisa Marrone, Director of Business Development at the Town of Chelmsford, to take incremental steps to implement the recommendations.
One of the major achievements for Lisa and her team was the installation of signage at the entrance and throughout the park. Before the signs, someone driving through the area usually did not realize they were in an office park. Branding the Cross Roads in this way created a recognizable identity and sense of place that was missing.
Other achievements include the formation of an implementation committee of local owners and occupants who helped in the development and fine-tuning of marketing messaging and communications, the establishment of active social media channels, and an overhaul of the Cross Roads website. At the same time, several new amenities opened in the office park, including the notable Pressed Café.
We are currently implementing a marketing and communications campaign touting the unmatched talent pool that businesses in the Cross Roads benefit from. Camoin Associates’ ProspectEngage software is installed on the Cross Road’s website, which helps Lisa identify new leads for business attraction as well as existing tenants that may be considering relocation or expansion.
Five years have passed since our initial market analysis for the business park, and in that time, Lisa and her team have remained focused and dedicated to the re-position strategy. Their progress can be measured by this simple metric: The amount of vacant space at the Cross Roads has dropped from 1,450,000 square feet in 2018 to around 700,000 square feet today.
Do you need help repositioning your business/office/tech park to fill vacancies and attract new investment and jobs to your community? We can help. Learn more about Camoin Associates’ Real Estate Development services.