In the News > Burlington takes aim at Waltham

Burlington takes aim at Waltham

12/8/2011

For years Burlington has sat enviously in Waltham's shadow while the old Watch City transformed itself into Route 128's top destination for tech, biotech, and financial services companies.

Burlington got the malls while Waltham snagged the big-name, big-bucks office tenants.

But Burlington's welcoming of retail development now looks almost prescient amid a shift in what companies are looking for in an increasingly 24/7 business world.

With a redevelopment in the works of one of its oldest office parks into a suburban restaurant mecca, Burlington has a chance to shake free of Waltham's orbit and emerge as "downtown 128," real estate executives say.

It's a vision for Burlington as the Interstate 95 corridor's Main Street, a place where shops, tony restaurants, offices, and even high-end housing come together in a single, appealing package.

Nordblom Cos., which is redeveloping its sprawling, 285-acre Northwest Park, is leading the charge in Burlington.

"They are rebranding Burlington as this high-end, downtown 128 location," said Tamie Thompson, managing director at commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, who is working on the project.

For its part, the $500 million redevelopment features a mix of high-end housing, a boutique hotel, and restaurants as well as a 140,000-square-foot Wegmans supermarket. Oh, and, of course, a couple of million square feet of office space to top it all off.

A centerpiece of the plan is to turn the now relatively nondescript Third Avenue into a restaurant row with a lively mix of eateries.

Not alone, Equity Office Properties Trust is spicing up the culinary offerings at the nearby New England Executive Park.

Tavern in the Square, which has locations in Salem, Cambridge, and Allston, plans to open a 314-seat restaurant at One New England Executive Park, which will include patio seating for up to 60.

That presents a marked change for the office park, which currently has just a small coffee shop.

If you are an office developer, why bother with restaurants and retail shops?

In short, companies along the 128 corridor are increasingly demanding such amenities - dubbed "support retail" in the business - as they compete for the best and brightest workers in the tech, life science, and financial service sectors.

While the national and state jobless rates remain high, it's a different story in these relatively high-growth, high-pay fields, said Alex Dauria, regional managing director for Jones Lang LaSalle.

"In the knowledge-based economy, we are talking about 4 percent unemployment," Dauria said. "You are talking about competing for the best and brightest, and part and parcel of that is the office environment."

The numbers seem to suggest that Burlington may be onto something.