Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Liberty rethinks Great Valley

by Natalie Kostelni Staff writer for the Philadelphia Busines Journal

Liberty Property Trust is proposing a dramatic plan to level nine office buildings in Great Valley Corporate Center that would create a 50-acre swath of developable land where it wants to construct a mixed-use community totaling more than a million square feet.
The plans are in the early stages and Liberty is just beginning the approval process with East Whiteland. Pa. The company wants to see if it can get the area, which is at the northwest and southwest quadrants of Route 29 and Great Valley Parkway, rezoned to have increased heights and more density.
Liberty envisions three high-end apartment buildings with 800 units, a hotel with 125 to 130 rooms, office space totaling 820,000 square feet, 25,000 square feet of retail, parking garages as well as community space that would be constructed in three phases on the site.
It will be developed with an eye toward making that segment of Great Valley a walkable, cohesive community, active throughout the entire week and not just during business hours.
“You need a sense of place and we’re trying to create that here,” said Tony Nichols Jr., vice president at the real estate company.
Liberty’s predecessor company, Rouse and Associates, established Great Valley in 1974. The nine structures slated for demolition were constructed during the 1970s and 1980s.
In recent years, the buildings became vacant and Liberty decided to mothball them as it began a process of re-imagining the suburban office park to seize upon current market demands and stay relevant.
With more and more real estate companies shedding their suburban office assets and focusing on urban centers connected to mass transit, companies such as Liberty have been trying to figure out what to do with suburban properties it wants to hold onto. Liberty decided it needed to totally recast a portion of the corporate center. It wants to position it to be a financial success for its shareholders as well as establish a blueprint for how it can create a thriving, new mixed-use community with an eye toward possibly replicating the process at other part of the corporate center and other markets it is in.
For the Malvern, Pa., real estate investment trust, analyzing the business park, what now surrounds it, and where it should be 20 years from now has led it down its current path. Some buildings in Great Valley are functionally obsolete and would be better demolished, laying the ground work for a fresh start.
It took Liberty about seven years to formulate its strategy.
During the recession, when construction was at a lull, Liberty engaged Design Workshop, a Colorado planning and design firm, to help it formulate a plan.
Liberty also did its own research on the role of who it is catering to these days: the knowledge worker, the creative class. It asked the questions: How do these people like to work and in which environments do they prefer to work?
Technology is inherent for these so-called “digital natives.” They like to share and look at work as part of their lifestyle, according to Pew research. They like a variety of choices, social spaces and places to collaborate. Liberty studied and planned.
The area surrounding the corporate center also is not what it used to be, which also played a role in its analysis.
“Great Valley has really been in play over the last few years,” Nichols said.
Many projects have reshaped the area, such as the new Pennsylvania Turnpike ramp at Route 29 and the expansion of Route 202, Nichols said. Atwater is becoming a mixed-use development with residential and retail under way. Closer to Route 30, Uptown Worthington continues to expand with more retail and multifamily projects. CubeSmart built a new headquarters nearby.
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