Leveraging a Mix of Uses, the N-Squared Innovation District Attracts a Burgeoning Ed / Tech Secto

"We knew we needed to rethink work and leisure to promote more meaningful conversations. Lines are blurred in the way we live today; therefore our space should reflect that.” 

Jodie McLean – CEO, EDENS

The value of blurring the lines between work and leisure, summed up succinctly in a press release by retail developer EDENS regarding the recent merging of their office space with a local bookstore and café, reflect the general sentiment of many of today’s companies when it comes to location, design of work environments and the culture they embrace. They want to be in a neighborhood that has options for shopping, living, dining and playing, and they want their own space to reflect the variety of daily experiences their employees seek. The overlap of work and leisure is bemoaned by many, especially at home, but in the work environment, office tenants and developers alike are seeing value in softening the divide between work and play. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like it when a little leisure time makes its way into the work day?

In the N-Squared Innovation District, encompassing 500 acres in Newton and Needham, the trend of colocating education / tech companies like Empow Studios and Examity in retail based mixed-use developments, is beginning to change the face of the district and the face of these companies. Leonid Tunik of EMPOW Studios sees the value of their new location at 180 Needham Street. “The Newton-Needham community has always been very interested in our technology programs. It’s time we established a year-round presence in the Newton area that features our project-based technology curriculum. It’s fair to say that the momentum of development on the Needham Street corridor and the N-Squared Innovation District put it at the top of our list.”

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From their perch on the second floor of 180 Needham Street, redeveloped by Crosspoint Associates, Empow Studios new space looks out over Needham Street and the newly opened Newton Nexus retail development. Empow sees the redeveloped Needham Street corridor as a great point of synergy with their popular Weekend Clubs and the STEM Club, a fully licensed after-school care program with a technology twist. Mixing education, technology and after school care is complimented by the ability of parents and Empow employees to run errands and get things done as they go to and from the studio. The retail center also sees the benefit of foot traffic in traditionally off-peak retailing hours.

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Below the studio is the new Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza. Replacing the dangerous eyesore of head-in parking at the relocated Boston Ski and Tennis, with outdoor dining and a graceful, entrance sequence to the studio above has completely transformed the experience of 180 Needham Street at this critical mid-corridor link.

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Across Needham Street, Examity, an ed-tech online proctoring solution, has just begun construction on converting 10,000 sf of prime second-floor space into their new headquarters. While the development of Nexus was key to Examity’s decision to choose Needham Street as their new home, CEO Michael London also has a clear vision for creating a work environment where people can interact in a variety of settings that integrate leisure activities, such as a stolen moment at a cafe or an after-work cocktail with colleagues, into the daily experience of his employees.

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The well-executed redevelopment of the Needham Street corridor, emphasizing a mix of complimentary uses that overlap work and leisure, is proving to be a desirable home for ed / tech companies and great retail destinations alike. As more and larger projects come on-line, featuring higher residential density and integrated open space systems, these companies will find themselves situated in a dynamic, walkable, 24/7 district that thrives on innovation and quality of experience.