Wilton hopes for piece of office pie

Wilton zoning and development officials are hoping the town can grab a piece of the office development market that experts see coming to central Fairfield County over the next five years.

According to RIES, the commercial real estate data provider, the central Fairfield County office submarket will expand by 237,000 square feet of new office construction over the next five years. Currently, the submarket has more than 2 million square feet of vacant space, at a vacancy rate of 23%, according to REIS.

The financial services sector, including banks and investment companies,  is the leader in leasing activity in the county at this time, according to consultant Milone & MacBroom, which is helping to craft the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development. There is also a trend in businesses of all types requiring less office space per employee than in the past.

The consultant pointed out during a workshop meeting March 15 that the vacancy rate is projected to increase in older and lower-quality buildings, as opposed to new construction, but that did not faze Bob Nerney, the town’s planning director. Nerney pointed out several successful office developments that were made out of older buildings — for example, the 1940s Perkin Elmer building on Danbury Road that is now the iPark complex.

“What’s happening in the market is there is a densification of office space, so the concept of large, individual office areas tends to be less of a case today,” Nerney said. “The workforce is comprised of smaller workstations, which is what I mean by densification. It’s maintaining the costs and nature of the society we live in, where much information is handled electronically, so there’s no need for large files, and storage space is more limited. There’s a lot more concentration of workers in a workspace, and it frees up areas in the building that in the past were not available.”

The town hopes it is the case that Wilton will continue to share in the office space market. “It’s not only encouraging new businesses to the community, but to retain those already here, that’s equally important,” he said.

Nerney credited the town’s Economic Development Commission for taking positive steps to attract and retain office buildings in the community.

Retail development is another story. With the exception of the SoNo Collection Mall in Norwalk, new retail construction is expected to be limited over the next four years, according to the consultant.

The consultant reported that about 36,500 square feet of retail space on Route 7 is currently listed for lease on LoopNet, mostly in older buildings south of Route 33.

Even so, the lower Fairfield County retail real estate market is outperforming the county as a whole, the region and the nation, according to REIS. The vacancy rate is lower here, at 6.1%, and the asking price for rents is higher, at $34.44 per square foot.