Downtown vs Suburbs

I recently made a change that moved my office from a building in South Bend’s CBD to a building in the Edison Lakes Corporate Park in Mishawaka.  Since that moved, I have been asked on a number of occasions if I miss being downtown and if I enjoy the short and easy commute to the office.  My quick answer is yes to both questions, but as someone that frequently works with businesses that are deciding on their office location, the questions require some thought.

Similar to South Bend, all large and mid-size cities have their downtown and suburban office markets.  South Bend has about 2 million square feet in its downtown with buildings such as the Key Bank Building, 1st Source/Double Tree, Leighton Plaza and several others.  St Joseph County has another 2 million sq ft of office space spread out is all directions with Mishawaka’s Edison Lakes being the dominant suburban market with about half a million sq ft. 

The nationwide trend in the last two decades was a migration from downtown offices to suburban location, led by office workers’ desire to work near home and near where their children went to school.  New suburban office buildings were very attractive locations for businesses offering convenience for their employees, easy parking as well as a high profile location.  The new emerging trend is for a migration back to downtowns, let mostly by generation Y and the millennials’ desire for a network of business and friends.  Cities like Minneapolis have seen a significant move to downtown, consecutive years of 100k sq ft positive absorption in downtown office space. (Star Tribune, May 19, 2012)

The downtown advantages cited by businesses are that these locations offer business networking opportunities and impromptu encounters at lunch, downtown hot spots and after work watering holes.  Staying top of mind with business professionals is a priority to B2B companies and downtown locations make that easier.  In suburban locations, those chance encounter happen much less frequently.  As I go to lunch now, I need to get into my car and drive to a nearby location.  In downtown South Bend, I would frequently walk to Subway or Jimmy Johns and in the process pass and 2 or 3 people I knew.  It may only be a quick hello or exchange of a few pleasantries, but sometimes leads to a deeper conversation or a “Hey, it’s been a while, let’s grab lunch sometime next week.”  That’s hard to beat.  A lunch appointment at Café Navarre also meant seeing and saying hello to half a dozen others in the restaurant.  In my current location, while I know several people in the building I work in, I have yet to run into any of them on my way out the back door and to my car.  Working in a suburban office does force me to be more active in schedule business lunches but I do miss walking out to lunch, coffee, or that after work beverage and just being out there.

On a positive, my commute is easier.  But in this market, if you live in the county, it is only right to say the commute to wherever you work in South Bend/Mishawaka really isn’t a commute at all.  It’s a drive to work that may take 10 minutes for the short drive, 20 minutes for the long one.

Will our market reflect the nationwide trend and see a migration back to downtown?  I believe as downtown continues to improve its residential population, there will be an increase in the entertainment sector and subsequently an improvement the downtown work force.  There have been a couple office building renovations in the past few years and as The Chase Tower and The Commerce Center complete their hopeful renovations and downtown streets are reworked, there will be more opportunities for quality office spaces.  Downtown growth will be a moderate pace as we are still a small community driven by quick and easy commutes.  In the meantime, I will do my best to get out.