A report from the real-estate-service firm NGKF released late last year provides new numbers on an ongoing phenomenon: the slow, agonizing death of the American office park. The report looks at five far-flung office-tenancy submarkets—Santa Clara, in the San Francisco Bay Area; Denver; the O’Hare area of Chicago; Reston and Herndon, outside of Washington, D.C.; and Parsippany, New Jersey—and finds a general aura of decline.
Between 14 and 22 percent of the suburban-office inventory in these areas is, the report found, “in some stage of obsolescence,” suggesting that between 600 million and 1 billion square feet of office space are unnecessary for the modern company and worker. That’s about 7.5 percent of the country’s entire office inventory.
What makes an office park “obsolete?” Arguably the most important amenity for the modern office is location, an aspect of an office park that is difficult to change. What’s called “Class A” office space is in transit-oriented areas that are at least close to highways. These offices don’t need to be in walkable, urban neighborhoods—though that’s ideal. At the very least, today’s workers want to get lunch or maybe even a workout without firing up an engine, NGKF finds. The newest figures from the commercial real-estate-service firm CBRE bear this out: 10.4 percent of downtown office spaces are currently unoccupied, compared to 15 percent of suburban ones.
The decline of the office park is part of a larger story, often told, about Americans’ shifting working and housing preferences, from sprawling, isolated, “safe,” and cubicled suburban campuses to more well-connected and increasingly well-funded urban open floor plans. (The office park itself was a rejection of the city: “The first office park opened in Mountain Brook, Alabama, an upper-class white suburb of Birmingham, in the early 1950s as commuters became uneasy with simmering racial tension in city centers,” a recent Washington Post piece notes.)