Suburban loss, urban gain? Location still counts

Will the decline of the suburban office finally be the juice that cities need to revitalize their stock of abandoned factories?

The signs seem to point that way, as noted in my story in Sunday's Inquirer. Well, maybe...

Suburban office campuses are emptying out, some jobs their lost to technology advances, others to outsourcing to other countries. A third factor, and an important one, is that today's young workers prefer an urban life -- they'd rather work in a former factory in the city.

No brainer, right? Suburban losses equal urban gains.

Ah, but not so fast. In real estate, whether it's urban or suburban, location is everything.

City factories might be the gainers, said James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and a key organizer of Friday's session on reinventing the suburban office campus sponsored by the Educational Foundation of the  New Jersey League of Municipalities.

But only, Hughes said, "if they have unique positive attributes," like the big windows bringing in daylight, so popular with today's workforce.

"Some of the factories were crummy," he said, with ugly "one-story additions built next to them."

But most important, he said, "the ones that have been successful have been in safe neighborhoods, if they are in activity environments." So, it's not surprising that there are apartments and offices in the newly-named Loft District, or in the former factories in Old City, or on the edge of Northern Liberties or Fishtown. Those locations, readily accessible by public transit, are hard by convenient sources for the craft beers and soy lattes so valued by today's young workers.

Are we seeing anything similar in the former textile factories near Broad and Lehigh? Will we?