Seeing Pros and Cons in “Digitization” of Real Estate

A future-focused Urban Leaders Summit discussion in Frankfurt in May on embracing new technology raised just as many questions as it answered.

Many German business leaders have been fretting about what they call Industry 4.0—the sweeping changes created by machine learning, automation, the “internet of things,” and big data—innovations they categorize under the umbrella of “digitization.” The waves of change triggered by this digital shift are going to be felt for generations to come, as more and more jobs are capable of being done by machines. Will we need humans at all? Will we create a superintelligence that finds us an unnecessary burden?

But going back to the present, Sascha Friesike, professor of digital innovation at VU Universität Amsterdam, wondered why urbanization continues to grow even as we increasingly decentralize work. If jobs can be done from anywhere, why do we still largely choose to move to cities?

Klaus Dederichs of Drees & Sommer was wary about the rush to incorporate the internet of things into properties. Tests have shown that the current generation of smart devices, which usually operate over wi-fi, is easy to hack. “They are compromising buildings’ cybersecurity,” he said. “What if terrorists attack smart buildings rather than drive into crowds?”

But Dederichs did also note some potential for buildings to get smarter, optimizing energy use being one of them. Building information modeling (BIM) is another promising field in the world of smart buildings. This digitizing of the planning, construction, and maintenance of buildings increases efficiency and extends the life of a project. Thus far, BIM has not seen huge adoption rates in Germany; the industry is hesitant largely because of the financial investments and the additional training needed for workers.

Blockchain came up in practically every discussion, as did artificial intelligence. It is difficult to find the middle ground between viral anxiety and tech evangelism, said Thomas Metzinger of the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz. “What do we do when a smart city crashes? And it will crash. We need graceful degradation,” referring a web design term that refers to designing a project to continue to function even if some features fail.

“We aren’t going to build houses that aren’t future-proof anymore,” said Martin Rodeck of EDGE Technologies, owned by OVG Real Estate. You cannot risk a new building being outdated within five years. And you should not jump on a trend like blockchain or virtual reality just because everyone else is doing it—you need to focus on how to solve the problem at hand.

Read more on Urban Land Institute

 

San Francisco delays decision on retail-to-office conversions

The owners of 220 Post St. spent $75 million to buy the Union Square property in 2016. The goal: to attract a luxury tenant to the five-story building. Too bad few of those exist.

City Center Realty Partners shelled out nearly $75 million for Union Square’s 220 Post St., the former Saks Fifth Avenue Men’s Store, with the goal of attracting a luxury tenant to the five-story space. That goal has been more difficult than expected.

Nearly as difficult for the owners has been convincing city planners that retailers are no longer interested in space above the ground floor.

Seven proposals to convert upper-level retail into office space have been filed with the San Francisco Planning Department, including 220 Post’s. Most of those properties are in Union Square. Earlier this year, the city decided to freeze those applications for 18 months. That meant that 220 Post, which was supposed to be heard by the planning commission this month, is waiting indefinitely for a decision pending the creation of permanent rules.

What’s at stake is the future of the city’s retail heart. City officials are hesitant to give up the sales tax revenue and jobs that retail generates, but landlords say empty space accomplishes nothing. Instead, landlords argue that adding more office space would not only help them fill buildings, but alleviate the extreme shortage of office space that is sending small businesses and nonprofits to Oakland.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution by District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin in May that imposed temporary rules banning conversions for an 18-month period. Planning Department spokesperson Gina Simi said the department has postponed hearings for properties located within the city’s downtown retail area.

The controls don’t apply to properties located south of Market Street or for applications that have already been approved, such as the former Macy’s Men’s store.

 

 

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Mall tenants had an out when giants like Macy’s left. Now landlords bar the door

The only thing more dangerous for America’s malls than a string of apparel-chain bankruptcies is when the trouble hits department stores.

Retailers like J.C. Penney Co. and Macy’s Inc. are considered “anchors” that keep malls humming and foot traffic flowing. They’re so important to the ecosystem that smaller tenants may refuse to set up shop without a promise that the anchors will stick around: Many leases include so-called co-tenancy clauses that let them cut and run or pay less if those key tenants depart.

Now, many landlords are pushing to eliminate or narrow the escape clauses in the wake of mass department-store closings. That means less flexibility for the remaining tenants.

 

Read more on Bloomberg

 

 

Oakland housing developers turn to new ways of building to reduce costs

Rising construction costs are pushing Oakland developers to rethink traditional construction methods to make sure much-needed housing continues to get built.

“It is an issue right now that we are all facing increased construction costs,” UrbanCore Development CEO Michael Johnson said during Bisnow’s recent Oakland Construction & Development Update event. “What will happen is some projects will not move forward as a result of that.”

Double-digit increases in the cost of new construction projects are not driven solely by increases in material costs, but also by higher profit margins and greater labor costs as contractors struggle to find a qualified workforce, he said.

Several developers have turned toward using modular units, designing more efficient floor plans and creating new building technologies.

OWow is developing a type of unit that can adjust the number of bedrooms with a push of a button. Mechanized, acoustically rated walls would raise and lower to create up to four bedrooms, oWow founder Danny Haber said. His company has been building macro-units in Oakland that use efficient design to cut down on construction costs.

Other developers have been pursuing modular construction. UrbanCore Development decided to go modular on its Coliseum Connections project about five years ago, Johnson said. Conventional construction was more expensive, and an analysis estimated about a 10% cost savings on a $40M construction budget, he said.

The modular units are expected to be fully in place by Friday and the 110-unit mixed-income housing project is expected to be completed in January.

 

Read more on Bisnow

 

 

 

Free time and fun: the new must-haves at apartments

As the luxury multifamily market approaches a peak, apartment owners and managers turning to social amenities to engage residents at their properties.

The new must-have amenity for luxury apartment projects? Time.

During this economic growth cycle apartment developers have engaged in a virtual arms race of amenities. Most were physical goodies they could tout in property tours – features like furnished guest suites for resident’s out-of-town visitors, rooftop pools, and walk-in lobby refrigerators for food deliveries.

Now, say apartment developers and property managers, the trend is towards providing services that save residents time, or experiences that make effective use of it.

Across the country high-end apartments are now offering a host of new services to attract renters: dog-walking, wine tastings, poker nights, errand-runners.

“There’s this feeling that the amenities war has run its course – everyone has the same check list on their website,” said Tom Geyer, vice president of branding at the Bozzuto Group, the Greenbelt, MD.-based developer and apartment manager.

“But I do think the battle of services is a newfound strategy to build value.”

Bozzuto, which owns or manages more than 60,000 units up and down the East Coast, has become a specialist in adding these experience-based and time-saving services, and notes the appeal of service and experience-based amenities goes across all age groups.

For its part, Geyer said Bozzuto doesn’t try to mold their properties to fit a certain age group – for millennials, say.

Rather, the company sees its properties and tenants in terms of “tribes.” Some properties have a preponderance of bike riders, some have dog owners, and others are dominated by retirees looking for urban living experiences.

“Most of our residents are not non-social people,” said Geyer. “Building amenity space is about supporting interaction, looking for a chance meeting of the tribe.”

For example, Geyer said residents aren’t just interested in an onsite gym, they want access to classes.

“Classes are the number one thing, group classes,” he said.

That means not just adding amenities, but re-designing some of the existing amenity spaces. Gyms have to be designed to accommodate the new trends of cross-fit, PX-90 workouts. And equipment has to be placed to accommodate classes.

National Development, a multifamily developer and manager based in Boston, agrees with the new thinking. It hired a full-time marketing and community engagement manager who coordinates events for a dozen National Development properties.

“It’s not an either-or proposition,” said Ted Tye, a managing partner at National Development. “There’s been a real push for physical amenities, and that hasn’t abated. Layered on top of that, as the market gets more competitive, is the social amenity.”

 

 

Read more on CoStar

 

 

 

Exclusive: Huge cannabis business campus headed to Oakland

Will this business park near Oakland’s Oracle Arena be California’s next big hub of cannabis innovation?

A sleepy Oakland business park a stone’s throw from Oracle Arena may be transformed into the Bay Area’s next big cannabis business campus.

Mesh Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on investing in cannabis startups, hopes to turn an office complex on Edgewater Drive into a center of the region’s cannabis manufacturing, marketing and production.

“It’s going to look very much like a tech campus,” said Mesh Ventures Partner Parker Berling.

The complex is master leased to Mesh Ventures Partner Martin Kaufman who is making around $20 million in infrastructure and tenant improvements.

California Capital and Investment Group bought the 207,700-square-foot office property in 2013 for $7.8 million, but has struggled to fill it. Kaufman said the Mesh Ventures team saw the opportunity of creating a campus in an area with access to top-tier scientific and technological talent.

“Sure, we could have done this in Fresno or Humboldt and t would have been cheaper but the level of people that we have here are unmatched anywhere else,” Kaufman said. “We have academics, scientists, really trained qualified people who are located here and are looking to enter the industry as it turns from a black market to a white market.”

Kaufman is the co-founder of dispensary Blum Oakland, which was sold in 2016 to Irvine-based cannabis agriculture company Terra Tech.

The center is being built out with the particular security and regulatory concerns of the cannabis industry in mind. Berline said roughly three-fourths of the tenants will be cannabis companies, mainly from the firm’s investment portfolio. Tenants are starting to move into the campus – which already has a functioning grow operation – and the renovations are expected to be completed by the end of the year. Leasing rates are rates around $2 per square foot.

 

 

Read more on San Francisco Business Times

 

 

The future of the shopping mall is not about shopping

When Cirque du Soleil announced plans this week for a “family entertainment” concept inside a Toronto mall, it said a lot about the future of shopping centers.

The 24,000 sq.ft. space, called “Creactive”, will be a circus-inspired playground with a range of activities from juggling to high-wire – allowing fans to “peek behind the curtain and imagine themselves stepping into our artists’ shoes”, according to Marie Josée Lamy, producer of Creactive. “Hanging at the mall” will take on an entirely new connotation as shoppers take to the flying trapeze. And that’s the point.

No longer is it good enough for malls to be passive places to buy stuff – they have to be engaging places to do stuff. Otherwise, this particular retail format will be relegated to relic status – “a historical anachronism, a 60-year or so aberration that no longer meets the public’s, the consumer’s or the retailer’s needs”, as developer Rick Caruso mused.

With that point in mind, I draw your attention to Exhibit A: Randall Park Mall in Ohio. When it opened in 1976, Randall Park Mall was briefly the world’s biggest shopping center. It quickly lost relevance however, and by 2000, Randall Park Mall’s vacancy rate was 92%. Fast forward to 2017 when it was revealed that Amazon was constructing a 855,000 shipping center on the same site. Online triumphs over offline, or “software eats retail” as Netscape founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen memorably put it. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

 

 

Read more on Forbes

 

 

After two projects sank, can San Francisco find developers for decaying waterfront?

The new effort is one of the largest but also potentially costliest redevelopment opportunities in the city.

The Port of San Francisco is seeking ideas for new uses at 13 historic waterfront piers, in one of the largest but also potentially one of the costliest redevelopment opportunities in the city.

The agency wants proposals from both large developers and smaller tenants such as nonprofits, arts groups and retailers to revive the piers, which are now vacant or used for parking or storage.

Some previously renovated piers have been financial successes. Waterfront offices at the Ferry Building and Piers 1 1/2, 3 and 5 have signed tenants for rents over $100 per square foot. Control of the Piers later sold for $103 million in 2016, and the Ferry Building is expected to be sold to Hudson Pacific Properties for around $300 million, according to sources tracking the market.

But two recent redevelopment efforts failed because of the high costs of rehabilitating and seismically protecting piers. A study for the Port found that $74 million to $10 million would be required to bring a single pier up to code. Last year TMG Partners and Premier Structures, Inc. exited an office, event and restaurant space proposal at Pier 38 after the cost to repair the pier was expected to be as high as $122 million.

 

 

 

Read more on San Francisco Business Times

 

 

 

Workplace needs a place to chill, Millennials say

What is one thing millennials want in an office that their parents probably never thought of? A place to relax.

That is the conclusion of a survey conducted by U.K. office interior specialist Dale Office Interiors, which found that over a third of 18- to 34-year-olds would favor prospective employers offering “chill-out zones.”

There is no exact definition of a chill-out zone, but presumably most people know it when they experience it. Previous generations understood the concept, but few thought of the workplace as a place for chilling out. Home, certainly. A bar, maybe, for those in a certain mood. But not the office.

“People want to enjoy working, playing, essentially they want to enjoy life!” Allford Hall Monaghan Morris founding partner Simon Allford told The Architects’ Journal. “Buildings need to enable this by offering a range of different working and relaxing spaces on the micro scale of the office and on the macro scale of the building.”

Overall, what millennials want is of high interest to employers. In the U.S., Google searches for “how do millennials want to work and live?” increased from zero in 2015 to 15,900 in 2016 and 13,400 in 2017, according to Fresh Business Thinking.

 

Read more from Bisnow

 

 

Exclusive: East Bay shopping center lands new grocery tenant to anchor redevelopment strategy

The new owners of the regional mall have mapped out a multi-phased plan to redevelop the East Bay property into a shopping and entertainment geared toward the region’s strong Asian demographic.

LBG Funds has finalized a 35,000-square-foot lease with Taiwanese grocer 99 Ranch Market to anchor the first of four phases that the Los-Angeles-based investor is planning for the once-struggling Richmond property.

Rebranded as the Shops at Hilltop, the first phase will also include leases for 55,000 square feet of restaurant space; new tenants for a 20,000-square-foot food hall and 12,000-square-foot food court; as well as a variety of incoming shops, entertainment and pop-up uses.

LBG is estimating work on the first retail phase will be completed in mid-2019.

 

 

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