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Real Estate Bisnow
The largest commercial real estate publication in the United States.
   
January 12, 2012 
 
 
POSITIVE ABSORPTION-
SAY WHAT?

Brown Craig Turner goes beyond architecture to create “place.” Grounded in urban design, BCT believes projects should resonate with the context and culture that surround them. For more information, click here.

 
Thus spoke MacKenzie's Scott Wimbrow, who tells us Q4 was the first time in years Baltimore soaked up office space—and that's across all Baltimore office submarkets, not just military darlings Fort Meade and Columbia. (It's the kind of fairy tale we've been hearing for years.)
 
Scott Wimbrow, Chris Bennett, and David Sciamarelli on Jan. 10, 2012
Scott (snapped Tuesday with colleagues Chris Bennett and MacKenzie newbie David Sciamarelli... who needs to get on the green tie bandwagon if he wants to make it) tells us the Baltimore metro absorbed over 300k SF last quarter. (He concedes Columbia formed a third of that.) Vacancy is down slightly to 16%, and there's not a lot of new construction, he says. Plus any of the new stuff going up around Fort Meade is for Department of Defense contractors that wouldn't be taking space elsewhere. More good absorption news: the spaces SAIC left behind around the city when it consolidated into 200k SF in Columbia's Franklin Center has been gobbled up over the past three years. (Wells Core Office Income REIT, by the way, bought that property for $65M at the end of the year.)
 
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Annapolis Town Centre in November 2011
Towson is a particularly bright spot, Scott says. It had been dormant for 15 years, but developers there are renovating, modernizing, and creating neighborhoods. Townson U's growth is also putting its stamp on the submarket. And over in Annapolis, financial firms are displaying confidence in the future; Wells Fargo, RBC, and Hannon Armstrong have signed long-term leases at Annapolis Town Centre (above).

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COPT STOCK MOVES UPON DIVIDEND CUT
 
This morning on a conference call, COPT prez Roger Waesche and COO Steve Budorick announced that their REIT is cutting its annual dividend $0.27, or 33%, to $1.10 per share. That could be deemed negative news, but KBW REIT analyst Shelia McGrath told us afterward that the step removes uncertainty and the stock is actually up today. She adds that the REIT is decisively handing the factors under its control like cutting the dividend and selling non-core assets. The mid-8% cap rate its expecting on the $562M of properties it intends to sell by the end of 2013 is realistic, and thus COPT should have no problem finding buyers. Roger and Steve made the case that leasing demand from DoD tenants is more predictable since the National Defense Authorization Act and defense budget passed in December, but Sheila says investors won't count leasing velocity in the "Things COPT Controls" column until leases are signed.

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O'MALLEY ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING
 
This morning, Gov. Marty O’Malley and Maryland Sec. of Housing and Community Development Raymond Skinner announced that the state is doubling its affordable housing allocation through an initiative called Rental Housing Works. It'll fund 20 shovel-ready projects with another $15M (which can be leveraged up to $300M).
 
Maryland Sec. of Housing and Community Development Raymond Skinner

Sec. Skinner just happens to be keynoting our Affordable Housing Summit at the end of the month. Sign up to hear more from him, as well as from AGM Financial CEO Margaret Allen, Urban Atlantic Development prez Victoria Davis, AHC Greater Baltimore director Andrew Vincent, Enterprise Homes CEO Chickie Grayson, Ballard Spahr partner Amy McClain, JLL's Christine Espenshade, Reznick Group principal William Riley Jr., and University of Maryland Colvin Institute of Real Estate Development director Margaret McFarland.


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TREMONT PLAZA RETURNS TO ITS ROOTS
 
Tremont Plaza hotel, 222 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, MD
Longtime Downtown hotel favorite Tremont Plaza (which sits a few blocks northwest of the Harbor at 222 St. Paul Place and now competes with Harbor East's showroom-new hotels) isn't playing Keeping Up with the Joneses. Instead, William C. Smith + Co has hired architecture firm R.D. Jones to redesign the property into one- and two-bedroom apartments for long-term stays (two months to two years). Much of its current business already is with professionals traveling here for job assignments or school. The developer bought the property in the early '80s when it was an apartment/office building (and people were still listening to Blue Oyster Cult... you know who you are). It'll continue as a traditional hotel through this year.

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HOW TO SUCCEED IN NON-PROFITS WITHOUT BEING A LANDLORD
 
Steve Cornblatt and Matt Melnick on Jan. 10, 2012
Matt Melnick (right, snapped with colleague Steve Cornblatt) tells us Baltimore Behavioral Health's sale-leaseback in the Southwest's Washington Village comes seven years after the non-profit bought the 74k SF campus. It didn't want to be in the landlord business anymore and is leasing back the 36k SF, three-story 1101 W Pratt St. Renovations are going on right now to spruce up 38k SF in the two-story 1001 W Pratt St for the University of Maryland.
 
1101 W Pratt St
The deal helps BBH earn some capital, reduce operating costs, and stay in Baltimore City to serve its patients. It also seems to be a grant couched in a real estate deal. The buyer, The Abell Foundation, was founded to provide grants to schools, hospitals, and human service organizations, aiming to break the urban poverty cycle.
 
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