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What’s the future for suburban office space in Anti Business New Jersey ?


file photo Boyd Loving

OCTOBER 25, 2015    LAST UPDATED: SUNDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2015, 1:21 AM

What do you do with a big, isolated office building that no one wants anymore?

It’s a question being asked around New Jersey as giant office parks — built along highways when the suburbs boomed in the second half of the 20th century — sit empty or half-empty while corporations shrink their footprints and younger workers look for a more urban, transit-friendly buzz.

In northern Bergen County, for example, A&P, Mercedes-Benz USA, Hertz and Pearson have left or soon will leave offices built in the 1970s and 1980s, when corporations headed out of the cities for greener suburbs.

“There was a whole movement toward beautiful, idyllic campuses, but the workforce today wants to be in an urban hub,” said Andrew Merin, vice chairman with Cushman & Wakefield, a real estate firm with offices in East Rutherford.

As a result, “each of these properties is going to have to invent its own future,” said James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers.

Some of these properties are destined for the wrecking ball — including the former Pearson building in Upper Saddle River, owned by Mack-Cali, New Jersey’s largest office landlord, which is fighting to build housing on the site.

Others will be redeveloped. The most striking example is the ambitious, multimillion-dollar renovation of the old Bell Labs in Holmdel into Bell Works, a mixed-use property that aims to turn the landmark building’s giant atrium into an indoor Main Street with an “urban” vibe.

Whatever their fates, it’s clear that many of the state’s large, 30- or 40-year-old buildings will no longer function as home to a single corporate user. And, experts say, municipal officials who depended on those corporations — and their big property-tax payments — need to make another plan.