Marlborough’s office, commercial vacancy rates drop in 2014

MARLBOROUGH – Dark and empty just a few years ago, the former Hewlett Packard campus on Forest Street is now brimming with activity.

Biotech giant Quest Diagnostics unveiled its new facility at the Marlborough Hills location in October, and GE Healthcare Life Sciences is moving its U.S. headquarters into the development in the near future.

The office park, described as “once doomed” by Tim Cummings, executive director of the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), is one of several formerly vacant commercial properties to recently get a new life. His agency’s annual report showed that 20 companies moved to the city or expanded this year, trimming Marlborough’s overall commercial vacancy rate from 17 percent in 2013 to 14 percent in 2014.

The city’s office vacancy rate also dropped from 24 percent in 2013 to 18 percent in 2014, Cummings said.

“The MEDC has worked very hard to promote the numerous benefits Marlborough offers to developers and businesses and it is very rewarding to see that our efforts are paying off for the city, as well as its businesses and residents,” Cummings said in the report.

“Marlborough is growing in economic strength and we see this in terms of new companies moving in, existing businesses expanding and property values rising, but also in terms of job creation, infrastructure improvements and ultimately stabilizing the residential tax rate.”

In 2014, SanDisk, Boston Biomedical Associates and Vivint Solar moved to Marlborough, while Boston Scientific, TPG Phototonics and RXi Pharmaceuticals expanded, according to the report.

The arrival and expansion of several new companies has created more than 1,800 new jobs, lowering the city’s 2014 unemployment rate to 4.4 percent, significantly lower than the state and national rate of 5.8 percent.

“It is very exciting,” said City Council President Trish Pope. “I know we have been focused on filling up our office parks.”

City officials are hopeful that new growth will continue with the recent approval of the new downtown zoning district, “Marlborough Village.” The new district encourages mixed-use projects and calls for several new uses downtown, such as hotels, bed and breakfasts, brewpubs and music recording studios.

The zoning change also eases requirements on parking and building dimensions for developers, who in turn have to comply with more stringent design standards for downtown. The zoning will allow developers to make payments in lieu of creating parking and use parking that is available in the municipal garages downtown.

“I think the downtown will be a boon,” said Pope. “There’s many opportunities that will be available downtown. It’s a great thing.”

Mayor Arthur Vigeant is proud of the strides the city has made to fill its vacant commercial and office space and is hopeful the growth will continue in future years.