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MARLBOROUGH, MA-They may come for the price, but Normandy Real Estate Partners principal Justin Krebs is hoping that prospective tenants eyeing the Marlborough Technology Park will stay for the quality.

“You’ve got to be able to provide a great environment so people can enjoy coming to work,” Krebs tells GlobeSt.com in unveiling a multimillion-dollar overhaul of the seven-building, 579,000-sf property, an 85-acre complex Normandy secured last autumn in a 13-asset portfolio buy from Morgan Stanley Real Estate. “We are hearing loud and clear that amenities and a campus environment are highly desirable.”

In assessing the 16.8-million-sf Interstate 495 West office market, known commonly as the “Boroughs” for the ubiquitous municipal suffix used there, Krebs says he anticipates a migration from tighter, higher-priced areas closer in to Boston such as Route 128 Central and the Framingham/Natick markets that in good times often send demand westward. Typically, a delta of $8 per sf can launch such a stampede, says Krebs, and the Jones Lang LaSalle mid-year report indicates the spread now is a full $10 per sf. Route 128 Central asking prices are averaging $30.37 versus $20.30 per sf in the I-495 West corridor, says JLL.

Even in anticipating a rental break, tenants will expect a level of services and features at their new homes, maintains Krebs, especially since many uprooted had enjoyed the flight-to-quality element seen earlier this decade that allowed tenants to occupy high-end properties at bargain-basement rates. The improving economy is not only sending such firms packing, Krebs and Marlborough Technology Park leasing broker Paul Leone of Richards Barry Joyce & Partners say the need to recruit skilled employees mandates attractive workplaces.

“It’s an ultra-competitive hiring market, and you clearly need to have an edge,” says Leone, maintaining that Normandy “is doing all the right things” to position Marlborough Technology Park as one of the submarket’s premier assets. “It really is a flagship property for the Boroughs,” Leone relays, one he says his firm covets as a leasing assignment. Besides Leone, other members of the RBJ leasing team are principals John Lashar and Brian McKenzie.

Using a design from local architectural firm Cube 3 Studio LLC, Normandy is wasting little time pursuing its value-add strategy. The focal point right now is on Building 200, a centralized property that will incorporate many features being made available to tenants in the park, including a fitness center with showers and locker room; a full-service cafeteria; employee lounges; and an executive conference facility. “We’re in full swing,” says Krebs, who anticipates Building 200 will be completed by October and the remaining work will be wrapped up by early 2008. The Walsh Co. is acting as owner’s representative on the project, while Normandy is serving as on-site property manager. Other changes will include new signage and improved landscaping.

“They’ve got a great team in place,” says Leone, who reports encouraging interest in the complex, but no new deals to date. The park can accommodate requirements from 8,000 sf to 104,000 sf. The “sweet spot,” according to Leone, would be firms needing between 20,000 and 40,000 sf, but he predicts nearly anyone with a requirement “is going to take a hard look” at Marlborough Technology Park. Accessibility should be another lure, he says, with the complex on Nickerson Road close to the Massachusetts Turnpike, Interstate 290 and Route 9.

The I-495 West market was among the hardest hit areas during the regional recession, and has been among the slowest to recover, but Leone says he is enthused by the current level of velocity, although the summer slow season does appear to be at hand. After hitting 27.9% in the third quarter of 2003, the vacancy rate is now down to 17.3%, says RBJ, putting I-495 West below the rest of the I-495 market’s 21.0%. “There is some nice momentum now,” says Leone, a notion shared by Krebs. “We’re starting to see some strengthening of the rents and in the activity,” he says, adding, “We feel pretty good right now about the investment.”

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