Are corporations heading back to the city?


Philip Langdon

Issue Date:

Tue, 2010-06-01


A shake-out in suburban office complexes hints at a more urban, but not necessarily spontaneous future work setting.

The insurance giant Aetna has moved nearly all its employees out of an office complex a dozen miles south of Hartford, Connecticut, and may end up demolishing all 1.4 million square feet of suburban workplace — less than 30 years after it was constructed. Meanwhile, in Holmdel, New Jersey, an office complex that was built in the late 1950s and 1960s for Bell Labs — and once was a hive of 6,000 workers — is now empty. Its 1.9 million square feet of building could be razed, too.

The future of large suburban business complexes looks less secure than at any time in the past 50 years. Some companies that once occupied outlying, large-acreage complexes have shrunk, and no longer need the space. Other companies have decided to move some of their activities closer to a metropolitan core.
This year United Air Lines will begin shifting its operational headquarters from suburban Elk Grove, Illinois, to downtown Chicago. Quicken Loans, in the Detroit suburbs, is relocating 1,700 headquarters personnel to a downtown that many people had written off: Detroit’s.

“It’s a fairly widespread phenomenon,”