How suburbs can lose millions in revenue when office parks sit empty

The changes to offices in one Minneapolis suburb illustrate the money at stake for suburban communities:

One surprising victim might be the Twin Cities suburbs. Take the 64,000-person suburb of Eagan, Minnesota where, earlier this year, two announcements upended the commercial landscape. Two of the city’s largest employers terminated leases at massive office parks, both of which served as local corporate headquarters…

Because commercial property is taxed at a higher rate than residential, for a city like Eagan, with a $42 million budget, the loss of two large corporate headquarters is a hit to its bottom line. In 2022, the two office parks provided about $3 million in tax dollars to the city, county and school board. (The city of Eagan’s cut of the tax revenue sits at around a third of that total.) 

Whatever happens to these two sites, they’ll likely be assessed at much lower values moving forward, likely swaying the rest of the suburban commercial real estate market. This puts pressure on Eagan’s single-family residential property to make up the difference, shifting the low-tax balance that draws people to live second-ring suburbs in the first place.

For their part, Eagan city leaders say these kinds of economic changes are nothing new, and the city is well-positioned to survive…

She cited the changing loss of previous corporate headquarters in the city, including Lockheed Martin and Northwest Airlines, both of which disappeared due to mergers or outsourcing.

Multiple forces are at work:

  1. Corporate offices change over time, before and after COVID-19. This suburb has seen companies go before and they found different businesses to lease office space.
  2. It is less clear the direction of the current office space market and financial markets are nervous. With more work from home and more Internet business, how much physical office space is necessary in the coming years?
  3. Filled office parks can help suburbs generate significant revenues and reduce tax burdens for others. Vacant buildings do not this at the same rate.
  4. Buildings that are vacant long-term are negative symbols. Communities want to have thriving businesses, not empty buildings. The longer the vacancy stretches, the bigger the consequences.
  5. Communities can redevelop such properties but this requires money, proactive local officials, and partners.

If we could come back to Eagan in a decade or two, will these properties be redeveloped mixed-use properties, vacant sites, or office parks operating at a decent capacity?

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