Nowhere is the downfall of the suburban office park more keenly felt than in the state of New Jersey, where the country’s first corporate campus was built in 1942. This state experienced perhaps the biggest building boom of office parks during the 1980s. An example of the now obsolete brick and mortar retail era is perched off a busy road in northern New Jersey where a new relic of the suburban panorama sits: the international headquarters of Toys “R” Us. The company leaves behind a roughly 200-acre plot scattered with multiple office buildings that once housed as many as 1,600 workers. Companies that were once the lifeblood of many suburbs have now become eyesores, forests of empty glass and concrete boxes that communities must figure out what to do with. The era of the suburban office park has come to an end.
Suburban office parks have lost their luster for a variety of reasons, including a growing preference among younger workers for life in more dynamic urban centers as opposed to the sometimes staid and sleepy suburbs. In some areas, these properties are being considered as low-cost options for the expansion of affordable housing. Other municipalities are looking to reimagine the abandoned buildings with amenities which attract younger workers, including restaurants, banks, fitness centers and open-design offices all housed within a walkable or bikeable campus.
One model has been particularly successful. The former Bell Labs (now called Bell Works) is a two-million-square-foot, glass-encased behemoth with coffee shops, pop-up restaurants and a soon-to-be-completed wine bar and food hall which will be located on the first floor and open to the public. Businesses occupy the rest of the space, with footprints from 350 square feet to as large as 350,000 square feet. Interest from companies has been high since the complex opened in 2013. In fact, the building has become a bit of a downtown hub, with the Holmdel Library located on the first floor, along with doctors’ offices, hair salons, and a gym. It has proven to be particularly appealing to tech companies that face the challenge of attracting a mostly younger workforce to the suburbs. There is a wide array of options, plus support from the community, and everything that you need is a short walk away.