The Rising Confidence in Suburban Growth

Cummings Properties' 54-acre Dunham Ridge stands as a testimony to an emerging COVID-19-shaped trend.

The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for a new wave of development in the life sciences and tech sector, while at the same time changing the office of the future. New trends are emerging—one of them is the suburban growth for the industries mentioned above. Cummings Properties’ Dunham Ridge in Beverly, Mass., is one of the projects representative of this trend. The company has 11 million square feet of commercial space in the north suburbs and aims to extend its footprint while providing businesses the chance to reconsider their downtown office space.

Cummings Properties acquired the former home of Parker Brothers and Atari in 2011 with the intention of developing a 700,000-square-foot, 54-acre campus across six buildings. The project will provide Class A office, lab and advanced manufacturing space, as well as high-demand high-bay flex space at affordable rates—all in the proximity of the Boston and Cambridge bioclusters.

The active pipeline includes two buildings: the 153,000-square-foot TechCenter at Dunham Ridge and the 50,000-square-foot 43-44 Dunham Ridge, a speculative building slated for delivery in January 2021. Associate general manager Stephanie Aitchison sheds light on what drives confidence in suburban growth and what creates challenges for development of post-coronavirus projects.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus Underscores Demand for Life Sciences Space

In which way does Dunham Ridge reflect the growing confidence in suburban growth?

Stephanie Aitchison, Associate General Manager, Cummings Properties. Image courtesy of Cummings Properties

Aitchison: Cummings Properties has a storied history of investing in commercial real estate during times of economic uncertainty. When others stop building, we tend to ramp up our developing—and the positive results we have seen at every turn are enough to keep us on that track.

Our new development at Dunham Ridge in Beverly, Mass., is largely being built on spec, which is also typical of our developer profile. The strength and resilience of the local business community, the desirability of the location to live and work, the upscale nature of the facilities and the undeniable trend bringing science and technology firms to the suburbs make us confident in the need for easily accessible quality space at affordable rates.

What is the current status of the project?

Aitchison: When Cummings Properties initially purchased the land at Dunham Ridge, the development consisted of a single building. In the years since, we have grown the campus to five buildings and two covered parking structures. Dunham Ridge is also home to international motion control technology firm Harmonic Drive LLC, which purchased land in 2017 to create its new U.S. headquarters and manufacturing facility.

TechCenter at Dunham Ridge is one of two new buildings under construction and on schedule for occupancy in early 2021. Located at 51 Dunham Ridge, this lab-ready facility will provide 155,000 square feet of Class A space. The brick façade is complete and windows are currently being installed. An attached 215-car parking garage is already finished.

A second construction project is in the works at 43-44 Dunham Ridge, where we have erected steel and preleased approximately 18,000 square feet. This facility will respond to a growing need in the region for high-bay manufacturing and flex space in the technology and life sciences sectors. Key building features will include high ceiling clear heights and direct loading, which will appeal to the many tech companies being priced out of urban markets.

The property also offers the rare opportunity to purchase a lot directly fronting Route 128, an ideal placement for a corporate technology company looking to expand or relocate to the North Shore.

Elaborate on the elements and features that make the project stand out.

Aitchison: Its accessibility to Route 128, amenity-rich surrounds and proximity to local colleges and universities make it an attractive option for employers seeking to lure top talent to their firms. The North Shore is a vibrant community that continues to attract young professionals you might expect to see living and working in more urban areas.

The modern, energy-efficient construction at Dunham Ridge has yielded visually striking buildings that are environmentally friendly, and on-site covered and attached parking is always a sought-after convenience. With abundant green space, the expansive campus also offers scenic views of Norwood Pond and adjacent conservation land. 

Tell us more about the companies involved in the construction process and how it unfolded so far.

Aitchison: Cummings Properties is a self-sufficient commercial developer that draws on its in-house talent to complete the design and construction of new buildings. In addition to our on-staff architects and engineers, three-quarters of our 370-person staff are tradespeople of all kinds. Handling projects in-house from start to finish allows us the freedom to build smart at every turn. We save on unnecessary expenses by cutting out middlemen and we are able to be nimble when changes are necessary.

TechCenter at Dunham Ridge, May 2020. Image courtesy of Cummings Properties

In which way will the project impact the area?

Aitchison: In addition to job creation and the expansion of the city’s commercial tax base, we anticipate that the development will attract more startups and established businesses to the North Shore’s robust life sciences and technology communities. The race to develop medical treatments, screening methods, and technologies to address the pandemic has sparked what some in the biotech industry are dubbing the “COVID-19 tech boom.”

With so many more global challenges to address, this mass focus on leveraging science and technology to develop innovative means to benefit the world at large will not stop once we have conquered the coronavirus. Dunham Ridge is just one instance of how the North Shore is ready to house firms that emerge during and in the aftermath of this tech boom.

Rising prices and commercial space shortages in nearby Boston and Cambridge, Mass., have led to a steady business exodus to the suburbs in recent years. With commercial leasing rates in Cambridge currently two to five times higher than Cummings Properties’ rates, we are excited to bring another affordable, attractive, conveniently situated campus to an area that is already well-known as a science and technology cluster destination. We have witnessed the growth of the science and tech industries in the northern suburbs through their stewardship of Cummings Center and we’re happy to foster the continuation of that trend at Dunham Ridge. 

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What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered during the development process?

Aitchison: We have been fortunate to enjoy a fairly smooth development process thus far. The combined advantages of owning the land—and therefore having the freedom to build largely uninterrupted—and relying on an experienced and capable team of in-house designers, architects and construction crews has facilitated our progress and allowed us to streamline our operations.

Has the pandemic impacted construction? If so, in which way?

Aitchison: Our timeline for this project has been largely unaffected by the pandemic. When the state ordered a halt of all nonessential construction projects, our planning and purchasing teams got to work procuring the building materials we would need once the shutdown order had been lifted. Because of these behind-the-scenes efforts, when the time came, we were able to resume building without delay.

One noticeable impact of the pandemic can be seen in the look of our job sites, where workers are strictly adhering to a suite of safety guidelines to minimize the risk of community spread while at work.

43-44 Dunham Ridge. Rendering courtesy of Cummings Properties

What are some of the challenges developers will encounter in post-coronavirus projects?

Aitchison: COVID-19 has brought to light the necessity of having adequate square footage in an office setting. With urban commercial real estate rates at a premium, more cost-effective suburban office facilities will continue to gain popularity. We anticipate seeing more and more movement out of the city as businesses look to secure a location that will allow teams to spread out within the same physical space, contributing to the collaboration, synergy and camaraderie that comes from in-person connections. They can do so in the suburbs without breaking the bank.

Another trend we have noticed gaining steam is that many larger organizations are adopting a hub-and-spoke model, which allows them to separate their workforces into geographic or departmental clusters. Leasing an additional space in the suburbs allows for easy social distancing in a structured office environment. Because so much of the workforce lives in the suburbs, many commuting employees prefer the convenience of working from a local corporate headquarters or satellite office that is closer to home. The growing popularity of satellite office space as a solution to the social distancing challenge is something that commercial real estate providers need to consider.

As developers begin new construction, they will need to consider adapting their office design models to meet the new needs of their clients. This could mean allowing for additional private offices, appropriately spaced dedicated workstations and spacious conference and break rooms. The demand for operable windows, independent HVAC units and frequent cleaning will also warrant consideration. Available on-site parking, which has long been a desirable amenity, will be even more attractive to businesses seeking to create a workplace destination that accommodates single ridership.

Tell us more about other tech and life sciences projects you’re currently working on.

Aitchison: Cummings Properties operates in the suburbs north and west of Boston, where a rich science and technology business community is thriving. One of our current projects at Dunham Ridge is the construction of a sample and testing lab for leasing client PROVA U.S., an international flavor and extract manufacturer that relocated its U.S. headquarters to Dunham Ridge earlier this year. We also recently leased space to a serial entrepreneur and previous client of Cummings, who will bring an exciting startup to that same campus.

Dunham Ridge site. Rendering courtesy of Cummings Properties

We work with many venture-backed firms and growing life sciences startups graduating from an incubator environment and we are presently completing a complex build-out of a 24,000-square-foot GMPc manufacturing facility that will include one ISO 7/Grade C clean room and two ISO 8/Grade D clean room for a major biotech client. In Beverly alone, we have nearly 60 lifetech and cleantech leasing clients occupying more than half a million square feet of space.

How do you see these sectors’ evolution in the Boston area going forward?

Aitchison: We certainly expect to see continued growth in the sciences and technologies fields in both Boston and its suburbs as we move forward. COVID-19 has accelerated the development of life science-based innovative technologies to respond to a changing world, and these will have an even broader impact over time.

Because lab space is being rapidly crowded in the city, robust suburban clusters like Woburn, Mass., and Beverly, Mass., must be ready to meet the demand. New developments for lab, office and high-tech manufacturing space are currently underway along the Interstate 95 corridor and TechCenter at Dunham Ridge is a ready-made solution to the evolving needs of Massachusetts’ thriving science and tech industries.

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