While I’m not sure if this is better imagined as news about a national urbanization trend or news about Walmart’s relentless expansion into new urban territories, the fact remains that Washington, DC’s two newest Walmart stores are a little different from what we’re used to. Rather than massive stores anchoring shopping centers, they’re sub 100k sq. ft. layouts serving as anchors for new apartment buildings.
The discount giant’s two newest DC stores bring an announced 600 jobs total to the city, and one building at 77 H Street, sporting 303 apartments has already been marketed and sold to Clarion Partners for an undisclosed figure.
Take a look at a video of the interior of the 77 H Street store and take in the unusual sight of Walmart’s unmistakable interiors and branding at the reduced scale of an urban anchor store.
The stores are Walmart’s first in Washington DC. The Walmart at First and H street runs 76,000 sq. ft and sports two floors of parking below-grade Walmart will officially open its first DC stores in two weeks. The locations on Georgia Avenue, and First and H Street NW will open their doors at 8am on December 4.
The 76,000 square-foot Walmart at 77 H Street NW (pictured above) will anchor a 303-unit apartment project. This location will have two floors of below-grade parking.
(Photo Credit: UrbanTurf DC)
The challenge of urban planning is eternal, but its vocabulary and techniques evolve. The latest wrinkle in the field is the concept of placemaking, a friendly word encompassing the dirty details and hard work of turning around underused and uninviting features of a community. Vacant lots, dilapidated sidewalks, stretches of vacant storefronts, poorly maintained streets all serve to drive down community morale, lower property values and to repel imagination and the investment that follows it. Fixing these problems is not easy, as government and community and landowners and real estate pros all need to get on the same page.
Placemaking addresses the fact that markets alone can’t always combat blight and that planning and community direction of some kind must co-exist with purely commercial approaches in order to successfully turn blighted areas into inviting, usable, accessible and safe places.
REALTORS® On Point (As Usual)
Naturally, REALTORS® and their associations are in ideal positions within their communities to see up close what areas need work and to have an advanced sense of what is needed to revitalize an area. Even though that’s a significant head start, the challenges remain: how exactly does need translate into action steps?
Happily, NAR has some great answers. Check out NAR’s recently published (and excellent) 38-page guide to placemaking (available for free download here).
Packed with examples from around the country, “Placemaking for REALTOR® Associations” will open your eyes to credible, proven solutions to thorny problems of blight and accessibility. Unsurprisingly, we find that when REALTOR® associations take the lead in their community efforts against dilapidation, it greatly increases the chances of success.
Project For Public Spaces
Foundational to the approaches NAR compiles in this guide is the work of the Project for Public Spaces, a venerable nonprofit dedicated to neighborhood revitalization success since 1975. Check out a 2008 NYT article on PPS here.
REALTORS® help build communities. As a commercial practitioner, find out how NAR’s Community Outreach Programs can help you make a difference in 2014. Visit the Community Outreach Facebook page or bit.ly/NAROutreach
The recently announced decision by Germany’s largest manager of open-ended real estate funds to bring $2 billion in new investment to US real estate transactions is welcome news to commercial real estate professionals on the hunt for capital. Union Investment, the Hamburg-based investment giant manages funds totaling $32 billion while specializing in city-center office space and business parks, with a secondary emphasis in retail, logistics and business hotels.
With an eye toward that many vital sectors of the US commercial market, this is one international capital allocation that will attract attention over the coming years, especially since it may double the US holding of the company relatively quickly. Union claims its US portfolio currently includes “nine office and warehouse properties worth $2 billion”
Metzler Providing Onshore Perspective
“Over the next three to five years, with the help of our investment advisors Metzler Real Estate, we intend to invest up to $ 2 billion in the US growth markets on behalf of our global real estate funds,” said Dr. Frank Billand, Chief Investment Officer and Member of the Management Board at Union Investment. After acquiring the trophy building 555 Mission Street in San Francisco in 2012 and entering the Texas real estate market with the purchase of Research Park Plaza III & IV in Austin in 2013, the investment manager is currently preparing additional investments in outperforming locations in the US.
Colliers Sponsors Chatter In Miami
Buzz surrounding this influx of German investment is mounting: headlining the speakers list for Colliers International’s recently announced Real Estate Capital Summit in Miami is none other than Martin Brühl, Union Investment’s head of International Investment Management. Surely meeting Martin (along with two billlion of his friends) has found its way onto the agenda of many a commercial real estate dealmaker this week.
(Photo credit: LendingMemo)
A bit of fun on a Friday: the trademark roof hump of the Pizza Hut franchise store exterior is visible all over North America and the world. With more than 6,000 store locations in the US and nearly that many in 94 countries around the world, the chain’s store look is as familiar to millions as any of the most valuable brands in the world.
But that shape isn’t dedicated to only the pizza and breadsticks. Plenty of other businesses have moved in to Pizza Hut stores once the original franchisee has moved on. It’s a testament to the success of the Pizza Hut brand that the repurposing of Pizza Hut stores — into other restaurants, pawn shops, family practice clinics and many other types of businesses — doesn’t fool us. The recognition is immediate.
That recognition has spawned an irreverent blog called UsedToBeAPizzaHut.com that I had fun flipping through this morning, and I thought I’d share. It’s not the most sensitively-written thing in the English language, but when it comes to a unique look at repurposing of familiar commercial real estate, it’s a hoot.
The story so far: the Federal Reserve in Kansas City mid-2013 published that irrigated cropland in its district rose 30% in 2012, while the Chicago Fed reported a 16% increase. Last year’s drought in Iowa last year notwithstanding, farmland prices have nearly doubled since 2009 to an average of $8,296 an acre. Prices in Nebraska, says the Fed, have also doubled during the same period.
There’s a complicated set of factors joining together to drive up farmland prices. Drought, institutional buying, ethanol mandates from the federal government, rising food prices and population concerns are all having their say in a steadily rising price for irrigated cropland. Some are saying the trend is unsustainable and shows all the signs of a classic market bubble. Troublingly, different looks at the market come to similar conclusions about a coming price collapse even if there’s disagreement about cause.
As Reuters reported recently, a report by The Oakland Institute documents a “global land rush of unprecedented scale” and estimates $10 billion in institutional dollars is chasing the fixed amount of US cropland. Pension giant TIAA-CREF, Hancock Agricultural Investment Group and UBS Agrivest were singled out as key drivers of a surge in farmland prices. This financialization of food-producing land is identified as “speculative” by the report.
Generational Turnover And Tight Credit For Small Farmers
Another trend feeding the charge toward institutionalized demand for land is the plight of the young farmer. A 2011 survey published by the National Young Farmers Coalition found that 78% of young farmers cited lack of capital as their biggest challenge. Depending on off-farm income to make ends meet only further sweetens the deal to a young farmer when an institutional player comes calling to pad its asset holdings.
In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, setting the stage for later mandates by the Environmental Protection Agency to compel an increase in the production of ethanol, the corn-based fuel. The EPA’s RFS and later RFS2 programs sought to almost quadruple ethanol production. The effect of government policy into land prices is highlighted by one analyst at Seeking Alpha when he points to a spike in land prices that occurred in the 2005 quarter the bill passed.
While that price move explanation seems valid, what’s less clear is any similar ongoing related effect of ethanol mandate on corn-producing land prices in the intervening nine years. As per usual, when it comes to explanations of prices from institutional sources, only some actors get attention. The Wall Street spin evident in the above-linked piece focuses only on Washington and ignores totally the fact or any possible effect of $10 billion Wall Street dollars wading into the market, as well as the plight of the farmer strapped for credit and capital.
Prices Stabilizing For Now
The Fed reports that land prices in late 2013 only gained 3%, but also touched on the farmer’s plight, indicating cash rents (and food exports) were in fact up:
Cash rents, another key indicator of farmland value, were also steady to higher as farmers negotiated contracts in the fourth quarter that will cover the 2014 season, according to the St. Louis Fed. Values were buoyed by a gain in farm incomes in the quarter, including crop insurance payments and much larger harvest supplies even at lower prices.
In recent years, both crop and farmland prices have set records as the boom in biofuels and food exports fueled demand. But the sharp drop in second-half 2013 grain prices ahead of the record corn harvest had bankers fretting that farmland prices could also plunge.
With land acting as security on most loans to farmers for equipment, and a persistent credit crunch facing farmers quarter after quarter, signs are piling up that the value of mortgaged food-producing land is headed for a slip. When, as WSJ reports, tractor company John Deere revises its farm equipment sales projections to 5% from the 10% thought a year ago, that’s only one of a set of signals that a land boom driven by Wall Street may be coming to a close.
The flight from urban centers to the suburbs that characterized much of the latter half of the 20th century is seeing a reversal. Collar communities across the US are facing rising vacancy rates as a generation of thirtysomethings and younger are breaking the pattern of previous generations by seeking life and work spaces close to each other, without long maddening commutes.
The urbanization trend has a lot of factors driving it. Depending on who you ask, the answers given to explain this shift point to the rise of always-connected technology-enabled life- and working-styles. Some point to somewhat fanciful ideas about “Generation Y” kids growing up in over-secure, helicopter-parented childhoods looking for the risks of urban life as a way to establish independence at long last.
Whatever the reasons, the shift in urbanization is real. Market research by IBISWorld highlights the trend in terms of hiked multifamily construction starts and other growing measures like rentals in urban centers. Put simply, a city apartment boom is underway, and a lot of industries are going to feel the benefit.
“As the US economy picks up during the next five years, both the rate of urbanization across the country and the per capita income of urban residents are expected to accelerate,” according to the IBISWorld report, titled “Moving on up: Top industries to benefit from urbanization.” Along with apartment construction, these shifts will lead to growing demand for testing and educational support, single location full-service restaurants, apartment rental, street vendors and public transportation.
Although operators in these industries are not anticipated to encounter a lack of demand in the next five years, “they are expected to face more intense competition among peers for market share within the rapidly growing urban markets,” the report states. “The benefits of urbanization, though, will increase the number of workers and establishments operating in these industries.”
Driving the demand apartment boom in part is the rapid growth of companies in the healthcare, technology and finance sectors. “These industries are attracting an increasing number of young professionals and college graduates, a demographic that has boosted the population of urban areas,” according to the report.
Accordingly, IBISWorld expects revenue for the apartment and condominium construction industry to increase at an annualized rate of 3.7% in the five years to ‘19. Profit margins for the rental industry have lagged the 9.1% annualized growth seen by the construction sector since 2009, though, and will continue to lag over the next five years, albeit not quite as dramatically: 2.5% annual growth, compared to 3.7% for builders.
The Takeaway For Multifamily Professionals
Suburban apartments and condominiums can only feel the most disruption from the interruption of the decades-long migration pattern from downtown to the boonies; multifamily markets markets in many collar communities are likely to get tougher to rent, and building starts are likely to become harder to finance.
Aggressive marketing in billboards (as in above, a campaign in Chicago promoting the western suburb of Berwyn) and on public transportation is likely to pick up in major cities; professionals working suburban markets should be organized into effective Chambers of Commerce to mount such campaigns. The suburbs can’t count on old migration patterns any more.
REALTOR® Magazine needs your help to identify nominees for the 2014 Good Neighbor Awards. The program–celebrating its 15th anniversary–recognizes REALTORS® whose extraordinary commitment to volunteering has helped make their communities better places to live.
Five winners will be announced and recognized at the 2014 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans. They will receive a $10,000 grant for their community cause, travel expenses to the convention and extensive publicity to benefit their cause. In addition to the winners, there will be five honorable mentions which will receive $2,500 grants.
This year’s Good Neighbor Award deadline is May 16, 2014.
For more information and to nominate please click here.
Attention commercial speakers:
Have something that needs to be said at this years conference? If you’re looking for a chance to speak at a session this year time is running out to submit the call for presentations form which are due next Friday, the 28th of February.
HOW ARE SPEAKERS CHOSEN?
Proposals are reviewed by a team of industry experts with expertise in real estate topic areas. Reviewers evaluate proposals based on six criteria:
- Relevance to today’s real estate professional
- Well-defined topic focus
- Practical application of material
- Timeliness of topic
- Overall program quality
- Speaker credentials, including references
Each speaker may submit up to 2 sessions.
For more information and to submit please visit the website http://www.realtor.org/speakers.nsf/pages/CFP .
Speaking generally and in nationwide terms, the commercial real estate market has been undergoing steady, uneven improvement for at least three years. What are the indicators of this recovery? CIT in association with Forbes Insights has an answer in the form of a handy infographic and report detailing the “cautious recovery” – check it out below. (Click for full-size of the partial graphic, or download the entire report here.)