Monday, January 18, 2016

The Sad State of Suburban Office Parks

In a story titled, "The Sad State of Suburban Office Parks", CityLab sounds a warning that ought to resonate in Richardson.
So-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.
There are models that developers are using to transform older office parks throughout the country, to measured success. They mostly involve turning definitely-suburban office parks into urban-like, albeit still isolated, office “cities.” (It is worth noting that many of these projects involve extensive rezoning efforts.)
Source: CityLab.

Consider what's happening just up the highway in Plano.
A Los Angeles investor has completed its purchase of Texas Instrument's former Plano campus.
Regent says it will consider developments of restaurants, a hotel, and retail and additional office buildings on the site, which can accommodate up to 3.7 million square feet of construction.
Richardson likes to think it understands all this, that it is promoting mixed-use development meant to avoid the decline of suburban office parks that afflicts other cities. But I wonder.

The new development at CityLine is huge, and the wider area from Galatyn Park north to the Bush Tollway and east to Jupiter Rd is humongous, but is it really all that different from the old suburban office park? Can it really be called an office "city"? Or will it just end up being what the new owner is trying to do to TI's dated Plano campus? We're starting from scratch, but will we simply end up with something indistinguishable from a refurbished 1980s suburban office park?

Except for a single block between the DART station and Plano Rd, little or none of Richardson's new development along US 75 and the Bush Tollway is mixed-use or walkable (it may be multi-use, but that's different). The new Raytheon office building is as isolated as any corporate suburban campus anywhere. The same can be said for each new office building that goes up on vacant land in Galatyn Park. The new Whole Foods store and its neighboring strip shopping center are right out of the 1980s, catering not to the new neighborhood but to the thousands of cars passing by on Renner and Plano Roads. Richardson is growing, and that's good, but are we building the right thing? Will it look as smart in twenty or thirty years?

The just-beginning development at Palisades has already made a harmful concession to its neighbors to the west who have insisted that the development face the freeway to the east and have no integration to the residential area to the west. Synergy is dead on arrival to the detriment of both areas. It remains to be seen whether the offices to be constructed will end up looking much different than that brand-new, walled-in Raytheon compound in CityLine.

And what of all those acres that are zoned industrial between US 75 and Plano Rd? Those warehouses and light industrial buildings might not constitute a suburban office park, but they are a close cousin. And it's all aging just like suburban office parks are. As wonderful as it was to see the old, abandoned Collins Radio site completely redeveloped as a data center, there is a lot more under-utilized real estate in the surrounding area. All of it is in need of a new strategic vision before it, too, ends up in a "sad state."

Richardson's leaders look at all the development in the city and pat themselves on the back. I worry that we're building the wrong stuff. We're treading water, not getting ahead. We're making deals, not making a city.

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