Rise of the corporate campus

Firms create attractive complexes to lure workers to the suburbs

What's not to like about the campus life? Strolls through park-like grounds. Lunch by a serene pond. Animated discussions with your colleagues about the next great idea.

Something about a campus environment fosters creativity and spurs innovation.

Now the campus concept has spread into corporate Alberta. It has taken the form of suburban office campuses that echo their educational counterparts in landscaping, building design, and atmosphere.

Corporate campuses-common in Europe and the United States-are commercial developments on relatively large tracts of land. They usually consist of two or more buildings, lots of green space, attractive landscaping, and architectural features that encourage inter-action between employees.

The idea is that by offering such an environment, a company can increase its ability to attract and retain quality employees.

The Googleplex is arguably the most famous corporate campus. Internet giant Google's $319-million, 22-acre complex in Mountain View, Calif., consists of four core buildings with more than 500,000 sq. ft of space. The complex houses about 1,000 employees. There are swimming pools, a gym, volleyball court, laundry facilities, and cafeterias. Pool tables, hair stylists, and a masseuse are all available within the complex.

WHY ALBERTA?

The lack of available office space in Calgary and Edmonton has certainly been a driver of corporate campus construction. But so have other factors, notably parking problems and companies' desire to meet the career needs of younger workers.

Alberta's corporate campuses may not be as grand as the Googleplex. Still, plans for several developments in Calgary, as well as for Edmonton's first campus-style office park, show that the basic employee-centred, relaxed atmosphere sought after by big players like Google is on the wish list of this province's companies.

Corporate campuses are springing up throughout Calgary. Examples:
* WestMount Corporate Campus and Opus Campus in the southwest
* McKnight Corporate Center and Westwinds Business Park in the northeast
* Quarry Park Office Campus in the southeast

Parking and transportation issues in Calgary's congested core are key drivers for the blossoming suburban office market. Add to that the ongoing labour shortage, predicted to worsen in the next decade as baby boomers retire, and it's easy to understand why companies are trying new ways to attract high-quality employees. Avoiding long bus trips, rush hour traffic, and expensive parking is a strategy that works.

"People typically want to go where there's a better lifestyle," says David Weinkauf, senior VP of Remington Development in Calgary. "The generation Xers [generally, people born between 1965 and 1980] particularly are looking more for lifestyle as opposed to just work, no play."

The newest generations of workers are known for their desire for work/life balance. In Alberta, they have the luxury of selecting their employers rather than waiting to be chosen.
Remington Development's newest corporate campus is part of a unique mixed-use development-Quarry Park-that will include up to 1.7 million sq. ft of office space and 91,000 sq. ft of retail. It also will include multi-family and single-family residences. The project is predicted to cost more than $1 billion.

Quarry Park has quick access to Calgary's major routes. As well, it will offer lots of parking. That fact, Weinkauf says, played a major role in Jacobs Canada's decision to move to Quarry Park next May.

"If they couldn't have the parking, they would go elsewhere," Weinkauf says. "And from an economic standpoint, we don't want to lose an employer of 2,000 people in this city."

Parking is also one of the reasons Bell Canada is pulling out of downtown Calgary and heading to Remington's Westwinds Business Park. Weinkauf says that Bell made the decision to move to enhance employees' lifestyles by providing a parking stall for everyone, access to amenities, and more space. Bell plans to move in December 2008.

Currently in Phase I, the Quarry Park campus ultimately will include 14 or 15 low-rise office buildings tailored to tenant needs. Located near the Bow River, the campus will have an abundance of green space, ponds, and pathways leading to the river and beyond.

The retail component of the development will provide amenities that companies can dangle in front of potential employees. Restaurants as well as a grocery, a pharmacy, and perhaps even a spa facility will allow employees to take care of daily errands without having to drive or wait for the weekend.

WORK INCENTIVE

A $14-million project in Edmonton called The Steppes is Edmonton's foray into corporate campuses.

"Everything is about trying to get people to want to come to work," says Jim Kumpula, manager, project development for Stuart Olson, about The Steppes. Stuart Olson Edmonton is the construction manager for the project, which will be finished in early 2008.

While Edmonton's commercial vacancies are at an all-time low, deciding to build a campus-style development wasn't based on the need for more office space. Brad Law is VP projects for Building and Land Development Inc. in Edmonton, the company developing the project. He came across the idea for The Steppes while travelling.

"I liked the concept. It's a very comfortable place to do business and we were looking for some sort of differentiator in this marketplace for office products," he says. Law adds that the style simultaneously attracts attention in Edmonton for its uniqueness to the market while offering familiarity to newcomers from large American and European cities.

Consisting of two three-storey buildings totalling 75,233 sq. ft, The Steppes is on a 130,953 sq. ft site in the southwest section of the city. With easy access to Anthony Henday Drive and the QE2, tenants and their clients can traverse the city quickly, accessing most of Edmonton's important locations, including the main airport, within minutes.

"It's obviously a much more open design," says Law.

"Density is less than 50 per cent on the lot." The ambience created within the development is one of relaxation, space, and beauty. While the campus provides 3.4 parking stalls for every 1,000 sq. ft, underground parking frees up land for green space, a wetland, and a pond.

Common areas where people can mingle form a major component of The Steppes.

"Typically in an office environment, you may never meet the person on a floor above or below you beyond seeing them on an elevator," Law notes. To make it easier for people to interact within and between buildings, large patios extend from the ground floor of each building. And each of the above-grade floors has substantial balconies. In fact, those on the second storey are large enough to hold the occupants of the entire floor.

Stuart Olson's Kumpula explains that the number of balconies and patios in the design means an intricate design and having to deal with multiple types of roofing systems. That is not commonly seen on commercial projects.

Kumpula stresses that building a corporate campus is no more difficult than tackling any other project. Using the construction management approach, Kumpula and the Stuart Olson team were able to determine the ramifications of the campus design well before getting down to work. That lessened the challenges faced during the construction phase.

INTO THE FUTURE

Is the corporate campus trend here to stay? That depends, says Weinkauf.

In Calgary, some city aldermen have said that they want to limit the number of parking spaces on campus developments to discourage driving. But Weinkauf says that could be a problem. Neither Calgary nor Edmonton has a transit system that can effectively transport people to and from suburban employment centres like Quarry Park, he points out.

Warns Weinkauf, "If they do that and make it policy, they're going to shoot themselves in the foot and they're not going to have anymore growth in the suburbs."


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