Marlboro development a place to ‘live, work, play’

Former office park takes shape

MARLBORO —  How do you reinvigorate an office park district where more than a million square feet of prime space off the interstate have been lying vacant?

It takes a village, say the developers of an ambitious project that is seen transforming the 110-acre former Hewlett-Packard campus on Interstate 495 through a mix of commercial offices, restaurants and retail shops, and residential units including upscale apartments and a hotel.

“In many respects we’re going back to the way people used to live, work and play,” said Robert Buckley, a lawyer for Atlantic Management, developer of Forest Park at 200 Forest St.

“Take the city of Newton: You have 11 or 12 villages — Auburndale, Newtonville, Waban — where you have retail, service businesses, and people living around those little hubs.

“People want to come home, park the car on a Friday night and not have to turn it on until Sunday. Imagine being able to get up and walk to work, what a concept, huh?”

The challenge is breaking people of the idea that commercial, residential and retail don’t mix, Buckley said. “They absolutely do mix, if it’s done right.”

The city of Marlboro is betting that vision will work for Forest Park, as is Quest Diagnostics, the Cambridge-based medical services company, which has signed a lease agreement for what it describes as a 200,000-square-foot “lab of the future” at the Marlboro site.

The city recently approved a zoning innovation to enable a mix of residential, commercial and retail use at the former commercial and industrial site.

According to Atlantic Management, Forest Park will feature “one million square feet of commercial office space, 350 high-end residential units, and 35,000 square feet of retail and dining space,” bringing “world-class tenants and a downtown feel to a once-stagnant area,” as well as more than $3 million in net tax revenue annually to the city.

The “live, work and play” ideal, a hallmark of the New Urbanism School that has championed the rebirth of city neighborhoods through mixed-use development, is now being carried to the suburbs, said Joseph L. Zink, president of Atlantic Management.

Currently “not a square foot of retail” is found when you exit Interstate 495 at Simarano Drive, Mr. Zink said. Forest Park will bring coffee shops, restaurants, banks, dry cleaners and other retail services to the corporate office setting.

“What’s one thing we’re all pressed for these days? It’s time,” he said. “Lunchtime, you’re trying to go out, get some errands done; you want to get to the bank. Say after work you want to go grab a beer. Right now you have to get in your car and drive to Route 20. Now you’ll be able to walk out back.”

Proponents of mixed-use development advocate this “live, work and play” approach.

“Building in a form that gives people a choice for how to get around as well as provides a diverse selection of housing and office locations is just good, common sense,” said Russell Preston, founder of the Boston urban design firm Principle Group and president of the New England chapter of Congress for the New Urbanism, an organization that promotes walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development. “For thousands of years people have organized their communities in various forms of this model. Who’s to say we are any different?”

The idea is to “make a place, so the next generation of office workers will want to be there,” said Fred Kramer, of Ashland, president of the architect and design firm ADD Inc., and a past chairman of the Boston Council of the Urban Land Institute.

“If you’re in a pretty good location, the only way you’re going to survive is (to do) exactly what they’re doing (in Marlboro),” he said. “I’d go so far as to say, if well-located suburban companies don’t do this, they’re not going to make it.”

Demand for the retail services, restaurants and lodgings envisioned at Forest Park is expected to be strong. Close to 2.4 million square feet of office space lie within a half-mile radius, Mr. Buckley said.

Discount retailer TJX Corp. of Framingham, parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods, recently purchased the former Fidelity complex nearby at 300 and 400 Puritan Way to expand its home office headquarters, and expects to relocate 1,600 workers to the 750,000-square-foot campus this summer or fall.

In addition, medical device maker Boston Scientific Corp. has said it will shift its global headquarters from Natick to Marlboro this year, a move that will bring 800 corporate office jobs to the city.

“It’s been an unbelievable year,” said Marlboro Mayor Arthur Vigeant. “Everyone’s working together.”

A hotel would be within easy walking distance for corporate visitors to TJX. A third office complex, The Campus at Marlborough, with 600,000 square feet, also is nearby. Meantime, the busy New England Sports Center is a few miles up the highway, and hockey parents who visit the arena for weekend tournaments would welcome the hotel space, Mr. Zink said.

“We’re making it easier for the employer and the employee,” Mr. Buckley said. “This is ground zero for Massachusetts. You can be in the Berkshires, the city, the Cape, and New Hampshire within two hours from this spot. If you’re a young professional being recruited to work for one of the companies that will locate here, you can have the best of both worlds. You want to be on the Cape, it’s an hour; in New Hampshire, it’s an hour.”

The first high-profile tenant, Quest Diagnostics, says it expects to employ as many as 1,200 staff at the new lab in Marlboro when it is finished in 18 to 24 months. Quest, with about $7.5 billion in revenues, is the world’s leading diagnostic information services company, serving approximately half of all hospitals and physicians in the United States.

“Marlboro has several features that fulfill our business needs for a state-of-the-art clinical laboratory,” said Quest spokeswoman Wendy Bost. “These include a central location in Massachusetts, proximity to major corridors like Interstates 495, 290 and 90, and availability of economic incentive programs designed to foster business and job growth. We look forward to making Marlboro the base of our operations for providing exceptional diagnostic information services to Massachusetts and New England.”

Forest Park developers described the response so far from other potential tenants as “robust.” Mr. Zink said serious discussions already are under way with three prospective commercial tenants. Mr. Buckley said: “We were just starting on the zoning and people were knocking on the door.”

Work is expected to begin on the site later this month. The aim is to have the development up and running by the end of 2013. “It’s going to be a very busy year,” said Mr. Buckley.