The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Kather­ine Shaver

From the rooftop ter­race of their new town­house, Keisuke and Idalia Yabe take in their sub­ur­ban Mary­land neigh­bor­hood: a staid, 1970s-era of­fice park of glass of­fice build­ings and con­crete park­ing garages.

The Yabes say they have found the ad­van­tages of ur­ban liv­ing in a shorter com­mute and the abil­ity to walk to shop­ping cen­ters and a park. They also have what feels like the best of sub­ur­bia — ma­ture trees, plen­ti­ful park­ing, Bethesda’s sought-af­ter schools and a more af­ford­able mort­gage.

From the Wash­ing­ton and New York sub­urbs to North Carolina’s Re­search Tri­an­gle Park, tra­di­tional cor­po­rate cam­puses that have strug­gled since the Great Re­ces­sion are try­ing to trans­form from ster­ile work­sites into vi­brant mini­towns. In ad­di­tion to hous­ing, they’re adding restau­rants, gro­cery stores, play­grounds and out­door con­cert spa­ces.

Although it might sound strange at first, the Yabes say, liv­ing in an of­fice park feels con­ve­nient and even a bit hip.

“The lo­ca­tion is ideal,” said Keisuke Yabe, 45, af­ter re­turn­ing from an evening walk with their 7-mon­th­cludes old daugh­ter, Mela, just as the sun ducked be­hind a 14story of­fice build­ing.

“For me, if any­thing, it’s ‘Oh, this is pretty cool,’” said Idalia Yabe, 38. “I think the of­fice set­ting makes it seem like we’re in a city a bit more and not as much in the sub­urbs.”

For many sub­ur­ban busi­ness cen­ters, at­tract­ing res­i­dents such as the Yabes is a mat­ter of sur­vival.

Once an elite ad­dress for com­pa­nies flee­ing down­towns, sub­ur­ban of­fice parks have grown in­creas­ingly ob­so­lete as busi­nesses have scaled back on of­fice space or re­turned to tran­sit-rich cities to at­tract young pro­fes­sion­als. Those reach­able only by car or bus have been hit par­tic­u­larly hard. In Rock Spring Park, where the Yabes live, the of­fice va­cancy rate has hov­ered around 22 per­cent.

Ex­perts say sub­ur­ban of­fice parks have plenty to of­fer res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ers. Many are close to ma­jor roads and near top-ranked pub­lic schools, and their sprawl­ing cam­puses and vast park­ing lots pro­vide land that has be­come in­creas­ingly scarce in lu­cra­tive ar­eas.

“On the sur­face, sub­ur­ban of­fice parks don’t im­me­di­ately sug­gest res­i­den­tial,” said Stock­ton Wil­liams, a hous­ing ex­pert for the Ur­ban Land In­sti­tute. “But they can be trans­formed. … It will take some cre­ativ­ity, but it’s cer­tainly doable.”

EYA, the com­pany de­vel­op­ing the Yabes’ Mont­gomery Row com­plex, em­braced Rock Spring’s cor­po­rate ad­dress, said Mclean Quinn, an EYA vice pres­i­dent. The park in- Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional, which is mov­ing its head­quar­ters to a more ur­ban area to at­tract younger work­ers, Lock­heed Mar­tin, Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health fa­cil­i­ties and dozens of doc­tors’ of­fices.

Quinn said EYA saw po­ten­tial in the of­fice park’s net­work of side­walks, walk­a­ble lo­ca­tion near West­field Mont­gomery Mall and two shop­ping cen­ters, and proximity to in-de­mand schools. He said the town­houses are draw­ing younger fam­i­lies seek­ing a “move-up home” with more space than they could af­ford in the District of Columbia, as well as empty nesters down­siz­ing from far­ther-out sub­urbs such as Po­tomac.

“It’s not di­rectly on tran­sit, but it’s very much a less sub­ur­ban lo­ca­tion than from where a lot of these folks are com­ing from,” he said. “For a lot of our folks, it’s very ur­ban.”

The town­houses range from about $750,000 to $1 mil­lion. Of the 168 homes, 89 have sold, Quinn said.

In sub­ur­ban New Jer­sey, de­vel­op­ers are con­vert­ing the for­mer 2-mil­lion­square-foot Bell Labs head­quar­ters in the af­flu­ent town­ship of Holmdel into new of­fice space, stores and restau­rants. Toll Broth­ers is build­ing 40 sin­gle-fam­ily homes, av­er­ag­ing $1.7 mil­lion apiece, and 185 “ac­tive adult” town­houses on for­mer Bell Labs prop­erty near the mas­sive of­fice build­ing.

Chris Gaffney, a group pres­i­dent for Toll Broth­ers, said peo­ple will want to live amid a 450-acre cor­po­rate cam­pus for the same rea­sons they’ve al­ways flocked to cer­tain sub­urbs: con­ve­nience and nearby top­notch pub­lic schools.

“Like any­thing else in real es­tate, it’s all lo­ca­tion,” Gaffney said. “The Gar­den State Park­way is right there, it’s a half-hour to the Jer­sey Shore, 50 min­utes to Man­hat­tan – it’s just an in­cred­i­ble lo­ca­tion.”

Sub­ur­ban of­fice park man­agers say they’re also try­ing to keep and at­tract of­fice ten­ants who tell them they can’t re­cruit the best tal­ent un­less staffers can walk to restau­rants, shop­ping and even to and from home.

For that rea­son, North Carolina’s Re­search Tri­an­gle Park soon will get its first 600 apart­ments, along with restau­rants, a gro­cer and other stores.

“Hon­estly, we are re­spond­ing to how peo­ple want to live, work and play in the same area,” said Linda Hall, the Re­search Tri­an­gle Foun­da­tion’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer.

Ja­son An­drew, The Wash­ing­ton Post

Keisuke and Idalia Yabe walk their dog through the quiet of­fice park in Bethesda, Md., where they pur­chased a home.

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