The Pandemic-Proof Office? One Developer Thinks Small, Secluded, Suburban Suites Are The Answer
The coronavirus pandemic has upended the way people work, so one developer is trying to capitalize on the change in office use with an innovative new project south of Boston, bringing private office suites to a hilly, wooded property that looks more like a suburban subdivision than an office park.
Mark Tryder, a former managing director with Boston-based Albany Road Realty Partners, is trying to develop 19 houses that comprise 70 to 75 office suites, each about 350 SF with a private entrance, surrounded by outdoor communal amenities. The 8-acre project, proposed in the wealthy South Shore town of Cohasset, would be called Outpost Scituate Hill.
The suites would have private bathrooms and kitchenettes to allow for privacy and rent for $55 to $60 per day, Tryder said. The office park would include outdoor amenities such as fire pits, exercise spaces and other common areas meant to encourage social and networking opportunities. Tryder presented his project to the Cohasset Planning Board last week, but he was met with skepticism from some board members and a resident over whether there will be demand for the project.
“Right now, in deep suburban markets like Cohasset, there is an undersupply of quality, private, office solutions that also offer a community aspect when desired,” Tryder told Bisnow in an interview. “That’s what this solution is intended to provide.”
Tryder’s Outpost Properties designed Outpost Scituate Hill to consist of single- and double-story houses each including office suites, and some including 300 SF conference rooms. The buildings, according to Outpost's Planning Board application, would include personal parking, fiber-optic connectivity, acoustic privacy and allow tenants to quarantine in their suites. Tryder said he is under contract to acquire the land, but declined to disclose the acquisition price, his investors or potential costs for the project.
The developers, along with architect Vcevy Strekalovsky of Strekalovsky Architecture, took design inspiration from The Sea Ranch, a Sonoma County, California, residential condo community spread across a seaside hillscape. An earlier version of the Outpost plan had each office suite contained in a 300 SF shed, but the design was consolidated into the wood frame houses for easier construction because of the site’s hilly terrain, Tryder said.
The project was proposed in Cohasset because of the town’s average median income of more than $200K and approximately 92% white-collar workforce, Tryder said, citing data from Point2Homes. Outpost Scituate Hill would cater to workers seeking an alternative to the more than 40-minute drive up Route 3A to Boston or the 45-minute MBTA commuter rail ride, according to project filings.
Employers, office workers and real estate experts are assessing the future of hybrid work models as people have gravitated to the suburbs and expressed a desire for suburban coworking spaces. Tryder formed Outpost Properties with childhood friend Thomas May as a response to the post-pandemic shift in office demand, he said.
“I had a career in CRE that involved investing in more traditional product types and uses, and wanted to take a step with my career in a direction in a way that was a bit more innovative and creative,” Tryder said. “That’s how I got to the place I’m at to come up with the concept.”
Tryder, a Massachusetts native, graduated in 2002 from Providence College with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and worked for PKF, a national real estate accounting firm. In 2006, he joined Colony Realty Partners, a REIT focused on data centers and other digital infrastructure since rebranded as Digital Bridge.
Tryder was a senior accountant and portfolio analyst at the firm for nearly seven years before joining office owner Albany Road Realty Partners, where he was an investment manager, vice president and managing director before departing last year.
Albany Road sued Tryder in March 2020 in federal court in Massachusetts for misappropriation of trade secrets for allegedly developing a plan for an “office floor to hotel” project while using Albany Road resources. Albany Road dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice in August, according to federal court records. Tryder said he settled the dispute and declined to comment on it further. Albany Road did not return a message seeking comment.
Following his Albany Road departure, Tryder partnered with May, a senior investment analyst at New York-based hedge fund Phoenix Investment Adviser, and they hatched the plan for Outpost Properties, landing on Cohasset as their first foray into a new type of office product.
The Cohasset Planning Board first heard Outpost’s plan in June and requested more information ahead of last week’s meeting. Tryder responded with a list of remote work assessments published in the past few months, including a recent 82-page report, commissioned by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, which predicted significant shifts in work habits in the coming years.
Nearly a third of Massachusetts workers could work remotely one-to-three days a week, and MBTA commuter rail ridership could plummet between 15% and 50% in the long term, according to the report, compiled by McKinsey & Co.
Outpost’s public filing listed local coworking spaces and their sizes, pricing and other amenities in an attempt to show Planning Board members how Outpost Scituate Hill would compare.
Some board members still were skeptical of the plan, citing concerns over whether anyone would want to rent the office suites. Wealthy homeowners in Cohasset have built larger homes or expanded existing houses and likely already have one or two home offices, Cohasset Planning Board Chairwoman Amy Glasmeier said.
“While there might be demand, I don't think we have a good way other than surveying people what the actual potential demand is,” Glasmeier said at the meeting last week. “We’re not trying to restrict you, we want to make sure it’s successful.”
Local resident Ryan McGrath, speaking during the meeting’s public comment period, rattled off a list of office spaces he said he had seen vacant near the Outpost’s site on Scituate Hill, and questioned whether Cohasset, 21 miles south of Boston, should approve Outpost’s experiment.
“I’m just concerned about the 250-year-old town being a guinea pig for remote work,” McGrath said.