Why Suburban Office Space Isn’t Dead Yet

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Why Suburban Office Space Isn't Dead Yet

As I’m writing this blog post in September of 2016, construction crews are tearing down Oprah’s Harpo Studios in Chicago’s urban West Loop neighborhood to make room for McDonald’s new world headquarters. While this is a victory for the gentrified West Loop, it is also a loss for suburban Oak Brook. This trend is ongoing across the country, and is so prevalent that the Washington Post wrote an article in 2015 comparing suburban office parks to ghost towns.


At the same time, though, San Francisco streets are still being choked by busses taking city residents to suburban office campuses in Silicon Valley. Twitter might be in The City, but Google and Facebook haven’t moved their office space north yet. Going back to Chicago, its suburbs lost McDonalds, but retained Zurich North America. Many New Jersey suburbs have also seen their seemingly obsolete suburban office parks redesigned and repurposed into new spaces filled with new businesses.

Between the soccer fields, SUVs and strip centers, a keen eye can find good news for the suburbs — and for suburban office space. To find the good news, look deep into the Millennial generation.


It turns out that they don’t necessarily want cities. Instead, they want what cities offer. Millennials want to live where they can live, work and play and where they don’t need to drive anywhere. Walkable and bikeable communities draw Millennials — whether or not they’re cities.


What this means for businesses is that the right suburban office space can be a draw for Millennial workers. Communities like those in Silicon Valley which offer a full range of amenities coupled with non-automotive transit options can be just as desirable as cities.


At the same time, Millennials are also aging and figuring out what every generation before them has seen — that suburbs are good deals from a real estate perspective. They offer more space, better schools, more safety, greater pet friendliness and lower pricing than urban living. With suburban homes comes a desire for the short commutes that come with jobs in suburban office space, especially as companies realize that having an overly virtual telecommute based workforce can have negative impacts on retention and productivity.


This is not a complete panacea. Many suburban office parks built in isolated, amenity-starved communities are likely to continue their slide into functional and economic obsolescence. If a building — or a community — is wrong, it’s likely to stay wrong. However, many suburbs are right and many of their office space offerings are benefiting from this trend. As Millennials continue to age and suburbanize and as urban space continues to become more expensive, this trend is likely to continue.


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