NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Sitting off of Interstate 95 in New Haven is “District” — an innovative nine-acre commercial campus.
It’s home to 150 businesses, a full-scale gym, a restaurant and even a foundation that trains adults for careers in technology.
For tenants, it offers flexible leasing plans and other perks, like free gym memberships and discounts at area stores.
“Really, this building is a bunch of communities in one and that’s what makes it special, that’s what makes it successful, that’s what’s gotten us to 96% occupied,” said District’s owner, David Salinas.
The space looks much different than when Salinas and co-owner Carla O’Brien bought it several years ago.
“The roof was open, it was puddles everywhere, the smell of gasoline and what a bus depot would actually feel like,” O’Brien explained.
Although the remake happened before the pandemic, the whole idea of repurposing space is a hot one these days.
“The pandemic has changed the way we work, we play, we eat,” said Dr. Fred McKinney, an expert on all things business at Quinnipiac University.
He said with about 30% of people working from home, thousands of business cubicles and computers are left to collect dust.
“People that can are able to work from home, and that’s emptying out the commercial properties that have been here before and rent it to businesses for their workers to come and work,” said McKinney.
On streets like Whitney Avenue in Hamden, there are signs everywhere offering available office space. While it seems at least to be a clear indication of trouble, a top area realtor says don’t assume the worst.
“Vacancies are increasing, but I don’t think it’s as bad as it may appear,” said Stephen Press, Press Cuozzo Realtors.
That’s the challenge: Nobody knows just how long the pandemic will affect the marketplace.
“I think office users, tenants are on hold; they’ve hit the pause button,” Press said. “They’re not sure what their business model is going to look like in six months, so they are staying in place now, not signing a new lease or as many as we would see normally at this time.”
Meantime, at District, Salinas said he’s getting calls these days from government leaders, landlords and developers all looking for advice on how to make the best use of their space moving forward.
“We tell them [to] pay attention to communities and focus on design and go from there,” he said.