Urbanizing the Suburbs: Retail’s Role in Reshaping Boston’s Landscape

by Taylor Williams

Over the past decade, urbanization has emerged as one of the most impactful trends to hit the real estate industry. This trend, embodied by the live-work-play concept, has been embraced by all demographic cohorts, from millennials to baby boomers and even retirees. While the impact has been most visible in the urban core, Boston’s suburbs are also being transformed, and the inclusion of ­pedestrian-oriented retail into new and existing projects is playing the integral role. Modernized, high-traffic retail concepts now provide the coveted ability to work, shop, dine and entertain with the same convenience of downtown while being proximate to the region’s top bedroom communities.

The Polaroid Site, Waltham

Waltham is Boston’s top suburban office market; however, its biggest drawback had been a lack of real amenities. Sam Park & Company acquired Polaroid’s former headquarters and planned a 1.5 million-square-foot, mixed-use development, which includes Market Basket, Not Your Average Joe’s, Flank, Starbucks and Jake n Joes Sports Grille. The existing and improving amenity package at 1265 Main immediately drew the attention of Clarks, which moved its American headquarters to a new 120,000-square-foot building on the site.

James Koury, HFF

James Koury, HFF

MarketStreet Lynnfield

Once the Colonial Country Club, MarketStreet Lynnfield is now a mixed-use development that incorporates 395,000 square feet of retail, 80,000 square feet of office space, a health club, hotel and 180 apartment homes. Anchored by Whole Foods, Legal C Bar and King’s, Market­Street features a classic main street, town square and a village green to blend living conveniences, everyday necessities and workplace amenities.

The Point, Littleton

As one of the newest shopping centers in Greater Boston, The Point was designed from its inception to be the future of retail. The master-planned 540,000-square-foot development features a dynamic mix of uses, including dining and entertainment, retail, hospitality and Class A office, to drive cross-pollinating demand. Anchored by Market Basket, The Point is home to seven restaurants, four fitness concepts and a 12-screen movie theater.

The District Burlington

What once was a 1960’s vintage, suburban office park has transformed into the hub of one of Boston’s best amenitized suburban locales. Following its acquisition in 2013, New England Executive Park was rebranded The District and expanded to include a mix of uses – namely six new restaurants, a hotel and a lifestyle space. The success of The District has spurred the injection of dynamic retail into the surrounding office parks as well as the demolition of existing structures in favor of a new wave of retail-centric mixed-use projects, including the Boston area’s first Wegmans grocery store.

Tucker Burleigh, HFF

Tucker Burleigh, HFF

Legacy Place, Dedham

Since the late 1950s, the 31-acre property had been owned by theater giant National Amusements, serving as the location of its original drive-in theater and its corporate headquarters. In 2009, the $200 million, 675,000-square-foot, mixed-use Legacy Place debuted. The project features more than 80 shops and entertainment venues the likes of which would normally be found on a city’s most fashionable boulevard. Anchored by Whole Foods, additional retailers include Apple, Soul Cycle, lululemon, Peloton, Pure Barre, sweetgreen, Shake Shack and Showcase Cinema de Lux. Perhaps the most telling accolade is that Amazon Books chose to open one of its first locations in Legacy Place.

The Takeaway

The emergence of urban-style retail in Boston’s suburbs is blurring the line between the definition of urban and suburban. Office tenants now have the same choices of where to shop or where to eat, be it downtown or Burlington. Apartment dwellers have the same type of pedestrian access to necessity-based retail destinations in Dedham as they do in Seaport. As the greater retail industry continues to evolve and millennials grow older, Boston’s suburbs will be further urbanized with the new retail concepts leading the way.

— By James Koury, senior managing director, HFF and Tucker Burleigh, real estate analyst, HFF. This article first appeared in the October 2017 issue of Northeast Real Estate Business. 

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