The shopping mall’s savior is starting to eat itself

Restaurants, one of the supposed saviors of regional malls, have been hurt in the past 12 months by too much expansion and a slowdown in consumer spending.

Stephen Wall’s restaurant chain Pho is the kind of tenant that mall landlords would love to attract. The Vietnamese menu is right on trend, the business is expanding and, even better, it has a track record of success in shopping centers.

Yet he thinks that even restaurants like his won’t be the savior of malls suffering from the rise of internet retailing and mobile phone addiction.

As competition from the likes of Amazon.com Inc. and Asos Plc intensified, British mall owners looked to food as a way to stay relevant. People would come to the restaurants to eat, buy some clothes in the shops while there, and the extra spending would allow the landlord to boost the rents. A simple, virtuous circle.

Instead, food and beverage operators have been hurt over the past 12 months by a combination of rapid expansion and a consumer-spending slowdown. An influx of private-equity investment into restaurants led some chains to open too many outlets that aren’t breaking even. Popular names like Gourmet Burger Kitchen, pasta place Carluccio’s and the Jamie Oliver chain — often found at big malls like Westfield and Bluewater around London or Manchester’s Trafford Centre — have been among those suffering. Nationwide, the number of restaurants going insolvent rose 24 percent last year, compared with 2017.

 

 

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How low-cost chains are changing the retail game

Dollar store chains are among America’s fastest-growing retailers, but their impact on the industry is coming under increased scrutiny.

Nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance reports that dollar stores are more prevalent than Walmart and McDonalds locations combined, and they feed more people than Whole Foods stores. In some urban neighborhoods, low-income and rural areas, dollar stores might be one of the only retail options for residents.

The number of dollar stores in America has grown from 20,000 in 2011 to almost 30,000, per ILSR. With many Americans living paycheck to paycheck, it’s not surprising these small-box stores selling affordable merchandise are thriving.

The ILSR report contends that dollar stores — which lack fresh produce and meat but offer a host of frozen, processed and canned food options — aren’t a symptom of economic distress in some communities, but the cause of it, as they stifle independent grocers and other local retailers.

“To the extent that dollar stores are filling, in some ways, a need in communities, I think that is true in the short term,” Marie Donahue, one of the report’s authors, told Civil Eats. “But really our research is demonstrating…those foods aren’t as good quality as full-service grocers or independent local stores, which may be able to connect to local farmers and the larger food system.”

 

 

Read more on San Francisco Business Times

 

 

Square takes over enormous Oakland building

Uptown Station, once meant to be Uber’s Oakland HQ, nets a new tech tenant.

Not too long ago, the circa 1929 Beaux-Arts building in Oakland now known as Uptown Station was meant to be the East Bay home of Uber, which had ambitious plans for the historic and recently refurbished locale.

But Uber sold the building almost exactly a year ago, netting $175 million from Oakland-based investment firm CIM Group but leaving the future of the sometimes neglected unofficial landmark up in the air.

On Thursday, CIM and Square announced that the SF-based payment app company owned by Twitter CEO (and Benioff antagonist) Jack Dorsey will lease much of the building, completing the locale’s long transition into an East Bay tech hub.

“Square has signed a lease for the entire office space in the iconic Uptown Station building,” according to a Thursday press release from both companies, a deal covering more than 350,000 square feet.

The building at 1955 Broadway first opened as an HC Capwell department store in the ‘20s, at the time apparently a very big ticket for Oakland as thousands showed up to see the mayor overturn the first shovelful of dirt on the future shopping hub.

Eventually, the building transitioned into being a Sears store instead, and for many years now has laid mostly dormant.

Developer Lane Partners spearheaded efforts to turn the disused retail Mecca into a new mixed-use office building before selling to Uber in 2016.

Square won’t actually move in until the end of 2019, possibly because CIM Group is still overseeing work that’s being done on the nearly century-old building.

“Oakland is committed to attracting businesses whose values align with our community. […] I believe Square can be that company,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said Thursday.

 

 

Read more on Curbed SF

 

 

Demand for apartment rentals surges unexpectedly as home sales slump

Surging demand and strong occupancy in the nation’s apartment market is “surprising” experts who say the continued strength is “unexpected.”

Just a year ago, as dozens of cranes swarmed over major U.S. cities, there was concern that the rental apartment market was overheated and overbuilt.

Apartment absorption, which is the rate at which new units are rented out, is now at the highest level in three years, according to the U.S. Census. Apartment construction took off in 2012 and reached a 20-year high in 2017. It remained elevated this year, despite warnings that demand would slow as more millennials aged into their homebuying years.

And while buyer demand did surge, sales were thwarted by tight supply that has pushed prices higher in the past few years, weakening affordability. When mortgage rates surged this year, even fewer people were left with the means to buy a home.

“People underestimate how far away from homeownership a lot of renters across the country, even in luxury apartment buildings, are,” said John Pawlowski, residential sector head at Green Street Advisors. “The demand has been better than expected. It’s been a stickier tenant base and pricing power at that tenant base, again in the face of elevated supply, has simply surprised us.”

The third quarter of this year marks the fourth consecutive quarter of positive operating “surprises” for apartments, according to a recent report from Green Street, which noted that the asset values of these apartment properties remain on firmer footing than most core property types. Apartment earnings were also better than expected.

 

 

Read more on CNBC

 

 

San Jose moves toward ordinance limiting Section 8 discrimination

Landlords in San Jose would no longer be able to advertise that they don’t take rental vouchers.

San Jose took a step toward making it harder for landlords to turn away would-be tenants who use vouchers to help pay the rent.

This week, the San Jose City Council directed the city attorney’s office to draft an ordinance aimed at giving renters with subsidies, commonly known as Section 8 vouchers, a fair chance on the private rental market. The so-called source of income ordinance would not force landlords to take the vouchers, but it would ban them from judging potential tenants who use subsidies differently from those who don’t and from explicitly advertising “No Section 8” on apartment listings.

If everything goes according to plan, the council will vote on the ordinance in the spring.

While a number of landlords blasted the proposal, saying it would force property owners to navigate convoluted regulations and paperwork, the city’s Housing Department said an ordinance is necessary to make sure families are able to find affordable housing.

Right now, there’s no law that prevents landlords from turning away voucher holders, and a city survey found most do, leaving low-income families scrambling to find homes in one of the nation’s tightest housing markets. Several national studies suggest that when cities and states have such ordinances in place, the percentage of landlords turning away voucher holders goes down and more people with vouchers are able to find places to rent.

“Voucher discrimination is happening in San Jose,” said Jacky Morales-Ferrand, the city’s housing director.

Several landlords told horror stories about Section 8 voucher holders who left rental units in bad shape. But tenants and tenant advocates countered that there’s no evidence voucher users are any better or worse than people who don’t use subsidies.

“We can’t judge the actions of a few and put it on the majority of the people,” said Robert Aguirre, who has used vouchers. “Not all Section 8 holders destroy property or disrespect the people around them.”

“We see clients all the time who are not able to rent housing, have to move away from San Jose, have to live in cars. … it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see that and this ordinance would help,” said Nadia Aziz, an attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.

 

 

Read more on East Bay Times

 

 

As another San Francisco office tenant decamps for Oakland, will Salesforce take its space?

Another office tenant plans to move to Oakland from San Francisco, freeing up some space that Salesforce is reportedly looking to lease.

The exodus of office tenants fleeing San Francisco for Oakland continues. The latest example is the California State Department of Insurance, which plants to vacate its space in 45 Fremont St. and recently signed a lease for 47,000 square feet on three floors in 1901 Harrison St. in Oakland.

Another tenant, Blue Shield of California, inked a deal back in 2016 to leave the same building for space in a new office tower, 601 City Center in Oakland. The insurance company plans to occupy 225,000 square feet in the building in mid-2019.

The moves illustrate a broader trend of traditional office tenants leaving San Francisco while the tech industry gobbles up available spaces.

Cloud software maker Salesforce Inc. is rumored to be close to taking the 282,000 square feet in 45 Fremont, owned by Shorenstein Properties and Blackstone Group. The building is next door to 350 Mission St., known as Salesforce East, that is part of Salesforce’s urban campus in SoMa.

 

 

Read more on San Francisco Business Times

 

 

Public has great expectations for San Jose’s Diridon Station amid Google campus plans

City transportation planner: “This will be the only place in the Bay Area where you have so many transportation modes converging in the same place.”

In discussing his hopes for what will be the new Diridon Station in San Jose, Joint Venture Silicon Valley CEO Russell Hancock fretted about ending up “with is something that isn’t bold, visionary, and exciting…instead, we’ll end up with some common-denominator solution that nobody really loves but nobody objected to either.”

If the couple of hundred people who showed up Monday night for the first community input meeting on the Diridon Integrated Station Concept Plan are reflective of city residents as a whole, Hancock should have no worries.

One commenter said he expected “the most impressive train station in the world, the one people in other places will come to see to model theirs after.”

“This will be the only place in the Bay Area where you have so many transportation modes converging in the same place,” said Eric Eidlin, the city transportation modes converging in the same place,” said Eric Eidlin, the city transportation department’s station planning manager. “That’s one of the main reasons why our city’s policy framework seeks to concentrate a lot of the urban development that we’re expecting right around the station.”

 

 

Read more on the Silicon Business Journal

 

Oakland may require landlords to retrofit seismically unsafe apartments

Oakland may soon require hundreds of old apartments to be seismically retrofitted in an effort to prevent a mass collapse of buildings in the next big earthquake.

The retrofit rules would apply to soft-story residential buildings: multiunit, wood-frame structures with weak first stories built before 1991. An apartment with garage parking in the ground floor or street-level retail could fall into the targeted category.

Such buildings are prone to collapse during earthquakes, when the combined weight of shaken upper levels becomes too much for the vulnerable first story, as Loma Prieta proved in 1989 and Northridge in 1994.

“You look at photos of (San Francisco’s) Marina District after ’89 — quite a few buildings looked like three stories when they used to be four,” said Thor Matteson, a structural engineer of the Bay Area firm Quake Bracing.

Oakland is believed to have more than 24,000 housing units in 1,400 to 2,800 soft-story buildings, defined as those with at least five units and two to seven stories, according to city estimates. The first step of the ordinance proposed by City Councilman Dan Kalb and Mayor Libby Schaaf involves finding out which buildings must be retrofitted and which are exempt, such as those that have already completed the work.

Building types would be divided into three tiers, and each category would be on a different timetable. Owners would have four to six years to complete the retrofit work.

Read more on the San Francisco Chronicle

New effort to push more housing near transit stations by setting state rules

A state bill to allow dense housing near transit stops, alleviating long commutes and coaxing people out of cars, never made it out of committee last session. But backers think the mood has shifted enough in the housing debate to try again.

“I think the political climate is changing,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. He’s the lead sponsor of the More HOMES Act — HOMES stands for Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity and Stability.

“In talking to my colleagues, there’s more support than there was earlier,” Wiener said.

The new iteration, SB50, prevents cities from restricting density within a half mile of a major job center or transit hub, such as a BART or Caltrain station. It raises height limits to 45 feet, about four stories, within a half-mile of the station, and 55 feet or five stories within a quarter mile. It also eliminates minimum parking requirements for new developments, a move that the Board of Supervisors is contemplating for San Francisco.

Those provisions are less dramatic than what Wiener proposed in SB827, his first attempt at statewide zoning reform. It would have barred cities from rejecting four- to eight-story apartment or condo buildings near transit nodes.

Wiener’s first measure laid bare an ideological divide in a state struggling with soaring rents, jammed freeways and a paucity of housing. The crisis has pushed people farther from jobs, forcing them into wildfire zones or soul-grinding commutes, Wiener said. But it has also ignited fears that new development will push out existing residents — or drastically change the landscape. And many opponents bristle at the idea of Sacramento interfering with local governments’ ability to shape their own neighborhoods.

“The issue seems to be that Scott Wiener and his bills are so often looking to undermine local control,” said Susan Kirsch, founder of Livable California, a San Francisco organization that advocates for local urban planning and moderate growth. It opposed SB827.

Political leaders in San Francisco and Berkeley fumed at the building heights in SB827, saying it would allow luxury high-rises to sprout up, unchecked, in quaint residential neighborhoods. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a resolution against the bill after an emotional hearing in which residents compared it to a “hydrogen bomb” and an “undemocratic power grab.” Some detractors worried that their neighborhoods would be remade to look like Manhattan or Miami Beach.

To other critics, the original bill felt like an unfinished draft. It didn’t do enough to protect tenants from displacement or require affordable housing.

“It felt like it was a big proposal, it was a bold proposal, and there were a lot of details that had not been sufficiently worked out,” said Anya Lawler, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. The center opposed SB827 but has not taken a position on the new bill.

Yet in the last few months, the tenor of the debate has changed. London Breed was elected mayor of San Francisco on an ardent pro-housing platform — she’s among the politicians tentatively supporting Wiener’s revised legislation. In September, the Legislature passed a law empowering BART to fill station parking lots with homes. And Wiener is seeking an ally in Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who emphasized the link between housing and transportation in a post-election speech.

 

 

Read more on SFGate

 

 

 

New SF hotels, WeWork-backed waterfront school among ideas for historic piers

Developer Simon Snellgrove has an idea: A new 65-room boutique hotel just south of the Ferry Building.

The problem: Hotels are illegal on Port of San Francisco land unless voters authorize them.

Snellgrove’s concept is one of 52 responses received by the port to revitalize 13 historic waterfront piers that dot the city’s scenic Embarcadero.

For the past three years, the port has sought public uses to bring new life for the piers, some of which were built over a century ago. The projects have big financial hurdles, requiring millions of dollars in renovations to withstand future earthquakes and sea level rise. But previous projects like the renovated Ferry Building and AT&T Park are a testament to the public’s love — and the lucrative business — of waterfront development.

The port received a diverse mix of ideas, including basketball and tennis courts, art galleries, an Italian Innovation Hub, and an International House of Prayer of Children. Boston Properties, the city’s biggest office owner and majority owner of Salesforce Tower, said it was open to operating nonprofit, maker and research space.

 

 

Read more on SFGate