Thursday, February 23, 2012

Gateway vs Town Center

A client recently asked my advice about whether he should consider relocating his firm from Town Center to the Gateway corporate park. His existing lease will be expiring soon and the company is contemplating a move to the largest office park in the county.

Town Center just seems a little dowdy,” he explained.

I prefer the word tired to describe Columbia's aging downtown . There hasn’t been a new office building built in Town Center since 1992, the most architecturally significant office building in Town Center, the former Rouse Company headquarters, is badly in need of a major renovation. Even the lakefront, the very heart of Columbia, is not quite what it once was. The bell tower is long gone and the rest of the public space shows signs of decades of neglect.

Gateway, on the other hand, now has almost twice the amount of office space than Town Center with the newest office building coming online in 2009. When Merkle decided to relocate their corporate headquarters to HoCo they choose Gateway. When major defense contractor SAIC wanted to expand their HoCo presence, they expanded in Gateway. Gateway has arguably become the premiere business address in HoCo. 

So I recommended Gateway right?

No, I advised him to stay in Town Center. While Gateway makes sense for some firms, it isn’t for everyone. Consider just the lunch thing. Unless you brown bag it or have a company cafeteria, lunch in Gateway for the majority of office workers, always involves getting in a car. In Town Center most workers can walk to a restaurant for lunch or to a park to enjoy their brown bag.

And the dowdy/tired thing?

While it is true that Town Center today lacks the luster of the earlier years of the new town, all of that is about to change. GGP, HHC and CA are poised to invest millions in a vast Town Center makeover. Over the next five years or so, the lions share of private sector development activity in HoCo is going to occur there. At the same time, CA has embarked an ambitious program to remake the two most important public spaces in Town Center, Symphony Woods and the lakefront. It’s an exciting time as Town Center is about to become to the most happening place in HoCo.

In a sense, Gateway represents the past where we developed office parks that catered to the automobile, separate from our residential areas. Town Center, on the other hand, represents the future where gas costs more than five bucks a gallon and being able walk or bike is not only healthy but an economic necessity.
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