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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.)

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).
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.