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BOSTON-With suburban office vacancy rates at 22% and little office demand on the horizon, local municipalities and developers are looking for new ways to fill the more than 27 million sf of offices now sitting unused in Boston’s suburbs. A new development trend aimed at turning aging office and industrial parks into lifestyle centers is catching the eye of local officials who see it as a way to revitalize decaying properties and generate taxes.

Wayland, MA is set to vote on a zoning change for one such proposal this fall that could turn the 407,000-sf Wayland Business Center, once home to a now defunct Polaroid plant, into more than 300,000 sf of retail space that will include a supermarket and restaurants along with 200,000 sf of residential units and a 30,000 sf municipal building. “What we are pursuing is the creation of a new town center, a mixed use, commercial, residential and retail project,” Richard Granara, whose group, KGI Properties LLC, will partner with Congress Group Inc. to redevelop the site, tells GlobeSt.com.

But Wayland is not the only community that could see new life for its vacant office and industrial parks. A 16-acre industrial and office property in Burlington that was once home to Raytheon is set to be turned into a $40 million outdoor retail center called Wayside Common featuring 38 upscale boutiques and restaurants.

Michael O’Neill, CEO of Preferred Real Estate Investments Inc., tells GlobeSt.com that developers are taking a new look at what he calls “brownfield sites,” abandoned office properties in central locations, that can be revamped for other uses. The concept, unheard of just 10 years ago, is drawing interest across the country as communities look for new uses for distressed properties and developers seek out infill sites.

“People are buying these brownfield sites because they are usually around great transportation and in towns that want to see these businesses brought back to life,” says O’Neill, whose firm will spend about $200 million to turn a 261-acre site in Attleboro, MA that it purchased from Texas Instruments Inc., into office space, single-family homes and townhouses.

Other towns are following suit. Westwood, MA recently changed the zoning on a University Avenue parcel so the industrial property could be redeveloped for mixed uses. And in Bedford, MA, a team of developers are working on plans to turn a 17.8-acre industrial site into 226 apartments, 15,000 sf of retail and 35,000 sf of office space. The redevelopment trend isn’t just limited to Massachusetts. From California and Texas to Utah and Georgia, developers are scooping up long-vacant properties and transforming them into vibrant economic and residential centers.

“It just makes sense,” says O’Neill. “You have water and sewer, you have traffic patterns and you have a town that wants to get business back. It fits very well with everyone’s motivations.”

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