Industry and innovation have long been synonymous in New England, and it seems that synergy is set to continue.
Mill buildings, warehouses, and older manufacturing buildings – remnants of the industrial era past, are transforming to meet the needs of the modern, knowledge-based economy. In many cases, dilapidated and neglected structures across the country are becoming a hot commodity for commercial real estate tenants in search of more character, charm, and open concepts. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, big name companies in San Francisco like Twitter and Google have already transitioned into new spaces because of their attractive industrial features like large windows, wooden beams, high ceilings, and concrete floors.
This trend is especially evident in the North East, with its rich inventory of industrial-era buildings. Boston-based companies like Converse and LogMeIn have relocated into brick and beam work spaces that feature natural lighting, high ceilings, and industrial concrete floors. “I attribute the predilection for funky space to companies wanting to attract younger, hipper millennials into the workforce” noted Duncan Gratton, Executive Managing Director. “Since warehouse styled office spaces are more appealing to this generation and tend to be located in urban areas, we see a rising demand for unique, industrial architecture.” In some core urban markets, the combination of brick and beam character with high commuter accessibility and live-work-play amenities has Class B rents rivaling the lower floors of Class A towers.
But the demand for industrial inventory stretches beyond the reach of cities. Clarks, originally located in a brick and beam building in Newton, has relocated to a former Polaroid manufacturing building in Waltham. Revamped to a state-of-the-art office space equipped with lavish perks, the building includes a retail store, fitness center, and a private outdoor terrace. In the same vein, Boston-area developer, Boylston Properties is in the process of transforming 490 Arsenal Street in Watertown into a two-story modern marvel for tenants seeking a collaborative atmosphere with industrial charm.
While a diversity of tenants work in converted manufacturing spaces, one segment is largely responsible for the rise in popularity – technology companies. Tech tenants looking for accessible urban locations are driving demand for brick and beam office space in Downtown Boston and the Seaport District. Meanwhile, the older industrial supply in Cambridge, Watertown, and Waltham is hardly keeping pace with demand from biotech companies who want to be close to Kendall Square. These spaces allow young tech startups and burgeoning biotech companies to leave the cubicles, carpeted floors, and drop ceilings behind while remaining in close proximity to transit, amenities, and intellectual capital.
More than ever, the changing landscape of commercial real estate is reflecting greater overarching movements in the business world. Whether its urban migration, shifting workforce demographics, or creative use and redevelopment, work place environments continue to be an excellent barometer for economic and social trends. Right now, brick and beam land lords are sweeping out the saw dust to make room for software developers and biotech researchers.
Duncan Gratton has been in the real estate business for over 30 years. He co-heads the Boston office’s Project Leasing Group, which focuses on representing owners of office buildings.
This article is part of the “Future Workplace Series,” an exploration of commercial real estate trends and their implications for businesses in New England.