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.

 

 

Read more on National Real Estate Investor

 

 

 

Neighbors rise against plan to replace Red Cottage Inn with bigger hotel

Owner wants to tear down small hotel for Hampton Inn with three times as many rooms in Menlo Park, but residents call it too massive.

The owner of a Menlo Park hotel who wants to replace it with three times as many guest rooms is facing fierce opposition from a neighborhood group that threatens to appeal the project if the city approves it.

Sagar Patel, who owns the 28-room Red Cottage Inn at 1704 El Camino Real near the Atherton border, said his proposal to raze the hotel and build a taller, 68-room Hampton Inn in its place checks off all the city’s approval boxes. He’s also made a number of concessions sought by nearby residents, such as better screening for privacy, after meeting with them over the past 16 months, he said.

“I was under impression that we meet (Downtown) Specific Plan requirements and that’s the holy grail,” Patel said. “Not only did we meet them, we exceeded them.”

Residents say they aren’t pleased because after Patel came forward with a proposal in the spring that would have placed all parking underground and set back the building 36 feet from their homes, he later scrapped it saying the concessions would be too costly and without warning, presented a different plan to the Planning Commission during an October study session.

In the latest proposal, parking would be at ground level and setbacks reduced to 10 feet.

“He decided he couldn’t afford underground parking and he changed everything,” said Deborah Melmon, a member of Park Forest Plus, the group opposing the new hotel.

Melmon said the current proposal places the edge of the three-story building 17 feet from her master bedroom window and living room on Buckthorn Way.

“He’s gone from a hotel that a lot of time and effort was spent on trying to compromise with the neighbors … and suddenly changed it up on us,” she said. “If the Planning Commission votes to approve the plan, we’ll appeal it; if it doesn’t, he will. Either way it’s going to end up at the (City) Council.”

Patel said he is tweaking the proposal to possibly put the parking back underground, though in a less expensive fashion, before going back for possible approval in February.

 

 

Read more on The Mercury News

 

 

Oakland requires landlords to retrofit ‘soft-story’ buildings

Landlords have six years to retrofit the buildings, which are prone to substantial earthquake damage.

To prevent hundreds of multi-story, wood-frame apartment buildings from collapsing as they did in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Oakland is requiring seismic upgrades of all those at risk in the next big shaker.

There are 1,479 such “soft-story” apartment buildings in the city constructed before 1991 — when the building code changed — that stand two to seven stories tall and contain five or more apartments, according to a 2008 analysis by the city and the Association of Bay Area Governments.Those buildings are supported by slim columns with either garages or storefronts underneath, and contain a total of 24,273 apartments.

With fears of the “big one” occurring any day now along the Hayward fault — which runs along northeast Oakland and south along Interstate 580 — the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Dec. 14 making the seismic retrofitting of soft-story buildings with more than five units mandatory, giving landlords four to six years to get their buildings up to code.

“A major earthquake along the Hayward fault is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement released a week before the meeting. “As a city, we have a responsibility to put measures in place that will prevent injury and loss of life, and reduce displacement and recovery time in the aftermath of a major quake. This ordinance does all of those while also ensuring that we’re not placing an undue financial burden on property owners and tenants in our community.”

San Francisco passed a similar ordinance that went into effect in 2017; Berkeley and Fremont also require soft-story buildings to be seismically retrofitted. The Hayward council is scheduled to consider a similar measure in February.

In 2009, Oakland required soft-story building owners to gauge the potential earthquake damage that could occur. In the city’s 2015-2023 General Plan, officials called for the creation of a seismic safety retrofit program that would encourage retrofits through financial and procedural incentives.

Councilmember Dan Kalb — who introduced the ordinance — said city staff had been researching the risks of soft-story buildings and working toward the legislation for about four years. Though some California cities have required the buildings be retrofitted, others have not yet addressed the issue.

Seismic retrofits fall under the Oakland rent board’s definition of capital improvements, and thus up to 70 percent of the cost of may be passed on to the tenants. This ordinance requires that pass-through costs to tenants be dispersed over 25 years to prevent substantial rent hikes.

 

Read more on East Bay Times

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Trump is getting involved in Opportunity Zones, and experts think that’s a good thing

Opportunity zones have become the darling of real estate investors since their adoption last year, but the still-under-the-radar program is poised to receive a lot more attention, and possibly scrutiny after it was promoted in the Oval Office last week.

President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order to push more federal resources into the Opportunity Zone program is a step in the right direction and could bolster the little-known tax incentive program and the distressed communities that benefit from investments, experts said.

“I think investors in the marketplace are going to be excited that there are going to be a number of new federal benefits aligned to these zones,” Develop founder Steve Glickman said.

Glickman is a former Obama administration official and one of the original architects of the Opportunity Zone program, which was enacted as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

“Frankly, these zones need a lot more than private capital,” Glickman said. “They need infrastructure investment, they need to deal with crime, workforce training, and other strategies and dollars. Opportunity zones were always meant to stimulate that kind of holistic activity not just on a federal level, but on a state and local level.”

Erik Marks, a Seattle-based commercial real estate attorney and founder of Opportunity-Funds.com, a website that tracks opportunity zone funds and designated areas, said the executive order still does not address the current shortcomings and problems that are present from people trying to do opportunity zone deals now.

“I think the regulation may be useful, but this is not a problem-solving regulation,” Marks said. “I don’t know what his strategy is, but I think when there are opportunity zone successes, he has a clear opportunity to put himself and his Cabinet at the locations for the photo opportunity. I don’t mean to say that in a derogatory sense … This is to make sure [everyone knows] he’s still part of it.”

For the past year, the at-first unheralded Opportunity Zone program, passed last year as part of Trump’s $1.5 trillion Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, has flown under the mainstream radar.

The program’s goal is to generate economic development in the form of the redevelopment or the development of market-rate housing, affordable housing, new offices, retail buildings and businesses in these communities.

 

 

Read more on Bisnow

 

 

Looking to invest in Qualified Opportunity Zones? These resources may help

As investors across the nation seek to deploy billions of dollars in capital gains into Qualified Opportunity Zones, they are actively seeking guidance about the program and on the hunt for resources to help identify neighborhoods, assets and available land within opportunity zones most ripe for investment. 

The program, created through the passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act last year, aims to incentivize private investment in underserved and otherwise blighted communities across the U.S. in exchange for a hefty tax break.

More than 8,700 census tracts have been classified as opportunity zones and numerous opportunity zones funds have already launched to take advantage of the program — with an estimated $6 trillion in unrealized capital gains eligible to be deployed into opportunity zones, according to a study conducted by Real Capital Analytics.

In response to high demand from firms and high net worth individuals interested in the opportunity zones program, a number of tools have come to market to help potential investors understand how the program works, identify neighborhoods that qualify for it and locate assets within the designated areas in need of investment.

“Opportunity zones have brought national attention to areas of the country that have been too often looked over for investment. Unlike traditional community development institutions, knowledge and understanding about these communities is quite limited,” Smart Growth Americas Vice President of Land Use and Development Christopher Coes told Bisnow. Coes is also director of national real estate developer and investor network LOCUS.

“The structure of the opportunity zones tax incentive places the onus on the investor to identify and conduct due diligence … which requires an understanding of not only the project but also the place. Because of this demand, we’re seeing a lot of tools [come to market] to help assist investors and policymakers.”

Read more on Bisnow

 

 

What Google’s San Jose project means for downtown

For years, much of the area around Diridon Station has been a neglected jumble of grimy auto body shops, vacant lots overgrown with weeds and shabby warehouses.

Google — whose plans face a critical City Council vote Tuesday — is expected to transform some 50 acres into a mix of offices, shops and restaurants connected by pathways that wind through parks and plazas filled with public art. Steps away, Diridon is set to undergo its own renovation and become the only place in the Bay Area where BART, Caltrain, Amtrak and high-speed rail converge.

It’s a tall order. But if the tech giant succeeds, the project could transform a downtown that has struggled to rebound from sprawling development in the 1950s and 1960s, when city manager Dutch Hamann rapidly annexed land at the city’s fringes while neglecting its urban core. When it’s complete, the area could support more than 25,000 workers, a 65 percent increase in the number employed in the core of the city today.

For longtime restaurateur and downtown business owner Steve Borkenhagen, Google’s foray into San Jose might finally spark the kind of urban rejuvenation he’s dreamed of for decades. For Kathy Sutherland, a nearly 40-year resident of the Delmas Park neighborhood in the shadow of the proposed development, the project brings both the long-sought possibility of a vibrant neighborhood and the fear of displacement. And for the urban studies theorist Richard Florida, the project is less personal but no less important — a chance for a major American city to finally get redevelopment right, to provide an antidote to the debacle of the Amazon HQ2 rollout.

It will be years before any such dreams or fears are fully realized, but the sale of more than $100 million dollars of city land — expected to be finalized at the Tuesday council meeting — sets the stage for planning and development to begin in earnest after months of closed-door talks and speculation about the biggest thing to happen in San Jose in generations.

 

 

Read more on the East Bay Times

 

 

A sample of SF waterfront redevelopment concepts

The Port of San Francisco’s “request for interest” for 14 waterfront structures within the Embarcadero Historic District is an outgrowth of a larger effort to update the port’s Waterfront Land Use Plan.

That effort began in 2015 and should move to environmental studies next year. The goal for the requests is to try and begin making plans to revive specific piers, so work could begin soon after an update is approved.

Respondents include restaurateurs seeking space, cultural entrepreneurs, and developers or design firms eager to take part in future projects. The full set of 52 responses can be found at www.sfport.com, but here are six examples that show the range of ideas.

 

Read more on the San Francisco Chronicle

 

 

As housing pressures increase in the Bay Area, multifamily developers focus on Contra Costa County

With several multifamily developments rising up around the Bay Area, many developers have started to turn their attention to Contra Costa County.

With rents and housing prices rising around the Bay Area, parts of Contra Costa are becoming more affordable comparatively and ideal places for millennials and other generations to raise families.

Developers are hoping to capture this shifting demographic as demand for housing shifts to the outer areas of the Bay Area. Walnut Creek and Concord have specifically benefited lately from new investment.

“We always wanted to be in Walnut Creek,” Bay Rock Multifamily CEO Stuart Gruendl said during Bisnow’s Future of Contra Costa County event in early November. “The government here in Walnut Creek is somewhat pro-development.”

The city has two active specific plans, and Bay Rock is a stakeholder in the North Downtown Specific Plan. The developer owns a large parcel and has plans to build 52 units, Gruendl said.

Unlike other Bay Area markets, there aren’t thousands of units teed up in Walnut Creek, Gruendl said. The costs are rising in the Tri-Valley and are becoming cost-prohibitive. A no-growth movement is growing in Pleasanton so there will be a natural cap on growth in that area, which bodes well for Walnut Creek, he said.

Bay Rock is focusing on projects in Walnut Creek, Berkeley and Oakland. “We find tremendous value in this market,” The Address Co. CEO and founding partner Eric Chevalier said. “There’s an affordability factor as well. People are getting priced out of the South Bay and the market. … They are migrating in this direction.”

The Address Co. builds both for-sale and rental properties. The company is working on a multifamily project called Riviera in Walnut Creek and has three other projects in the city. It also is working on entitling a project in Richmond, a city which the company is bullish on, Chevalier said.

 

Read more on Bisnow Oakland