The post-recession apartment class abandons suburban office parks

August 13, 2012

Caroline O'Donovan

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Once upon a time, there were thousands of young Illinoisans actively looking for jobs in the suburbs with good schools for their kids or soon-to-be-kids, low taxes, and jobs they could drive to easily. They spawned the birth of the office park, large, heavily landscaped campuses with gyms and cafeterias that, before the recession, were often filled to capacity.

But now, in many towns, those campuses stand empty. With an inkling that the recession might be behind us, those companies seeking to reopen or expand are looking at downtown offices. It’s not just that more business is happening in denser urban areas these days, although that’s true. According to Chicago Sun-Times reporter David Roeder, it’s also an issue of image. People would rather work in, “a spiffy downtown address in a building of note.”

Others say the trend is potentially temporary. While it’s true the rising professional generation does by and large prefer the apartment lifestyle, the bottom line is that yields are higher in the ‘burbs where property comes cheaper, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A turnaround would  be good news for the towns that sprung up around these office parks. Hoffman Estates, about 30 miles from downtown Chicago, recently lost both Sears and AT&T. They were the village’s number one and number two employers, respectively. Areas that rely upon office parks housing pharmaceutical companies and other industries that require space have more insulation, says Roeder, but not much. He suggests that those communities left with thousands of square feet of real estate consider converting them to community colleges or hospitals.

There’s no way of knowing now if the trend will last, but Chicago will see Motorola Mobility make itself at home downtown in the next few weeks, and rumor has it that Sara Lee is considering a move back as well. Roeder, along with Elk Grove President Craig Johnson, will stop  by Eight Forty-Eight on Monday to talk about what’s happening to suburban office parks with WBEZ business reporter Niala Boodhoo.