Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Avoiding the Dreaded Boston Rush Hour


Recently, Texas A&M released its annual “Mobility Report” on traffic conditions in the nation’s 498 largest metropolitan areas. The results aren’t pretty, especially for Boston commuters. According to the study, Boston is the fifth worst area for traffic, with drivers spending an average of 53 idle hours in their cars last year. Only Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York rank worse.

As traffic jams and work days have grown longer, employees have made a reasonable commute a top priority in choosing a job. As a result, the corporate housing model of companies clustered in urban downtowns or remote office parks is changing. Today, businesses looking for office space increasingly require nearby housing and lifestyle options for employees. Consequently, municipalities that offer all-in-one mixed-use developments are more attractive to top companies as corporate headquarters.

This was the case in Marlborough, Mass. where Atlantic Management purchased a 109-acre corporate campus that had housed technology companies such as Hewlett Packard beginning in the 1960s. Atlantic initially looked to lease the space commercially, but companies were hesitant to commit fearing that top employees could be not be retained without more amenities and high-end residential options. The same corporate concerns impacted over one million square feet of office space that were permitted in the area but unbuilt.

In response, Atlantic proposed a self-contained development unique in the Boston-Worcester I-495 corridor, Forest Park, with one million square feet of office space, 350 high-end, amenity rich apartments, a hotel, and retail and restaurant options.

“Today’s top companies want to offer employees the ability to live, work, and play with convenience,” said Riemer & Braunstein senior partner Robert Buckley, who worked alongside SA’s public affairs team, leading the campaign for project approval in the community. “The days of the hour-long commute are ending. And mixed-use developments allow companies the ability to offer the amenities and convenience of city living in a more intimate setting, at a lower cost.”

After extensive outreach to local leaders and elected officials, the idea of next-generation zoning took hold, and the Marlborough City Council unanimously approved Forest Park.

As traffic congestion gets worse, municipalities and private companies willing to be innovative have an opportunity. The challenge is educating local leadership and the voting public this new live, work, and play concept is viable- and good for the tax base- in their community. At Schneider Associates, we have developed a trademarked Community Launch program that educates and persuades communities and moves the needle for controversial economic development projects.

Leasing at Forest Park has progressed rapidly, with Quest Diagnostics planning to move a thousand employees from Cambridge to Marlborough and other companies showing serious interest. Just one year ago it would have been hard to imagine Marlborough competing with amenity-rich Cambridge for a leading company like Quest, but Forest Park has helped change the dynamic. Ultimately, this mixed-use development will bring Marlborough not only economic growth but improvements in quality of life.

Chris Meehan, Deputy Director of Public Affairs

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