We should've made commemorative plates for the 350 who helped us celebrate our inaugural Austin State of the Market event at the Hyatt yesterday. Big take-away: The state capital may technically be a tertiary market, but it's making primary market-esque deals.
Teacher Retirement System of Texas' Steve LeBlanc (senior managing director for private markets) spurred the primary vs. secondary debate among our panelists in front of a standing-room-only crowd. He says until Austin's population hits three million to five million, it'll remain a tertiary market. Meanwhile, most capital is going to primary markets (Boston and DC) before secondary markets (Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston) and ultimately reaching the tertiary markets, he says. While Austin ranks high in prestige and uniqueness, its average deal size is $50M, way below what most institutions consider the minimum. At TRST, for instance, the minimum equity check written for an investment is $200M, Steve says.
Oxford Commercial director of capital markets Rhonda Toming, however, argues that Austin is a primary market. She's particularly proud of the Q4 sale of the Ladera Bend office project to HPI Office Partners and Sarofim Realty Advisors. At the time, she recalls, there was no market activity to help value the property and it beat expectations with almost 30 bids. ?We found the investors that competed for it were all underwriting to the same metrics but way ahead of where the leasing market would end up.?
Reznick Group managing principal Edwina Carrington, who moderated, says the stats are there to support the city's claims to fame. She says Austin is the No. 1 market for the creation and development of small business. Plus, larger businesses are expanding: take Electronic Arts expanding its presence in the office market there. (And make sure Texans get the first copies of Madden 2012. Please?)
Thomas Properties Group managing director for leasing Andy Smith says Class-A properties are in full recovery mode. In Q4 '10, there was a surge of activity with good absorption even after his own portfolio took a 95k SF hit when Clark, Thomas & Winters went out of business. Thomas typically averages about 75k SF a quarter, but in Q1 did about 175k SF of gross leasing, another 160k SF in Q2 and is on pace for a similar Q3. Most of it is organic growth, he says.
HPI Office Partner Sam Houston says design has started on 250k SF at San Clemente at Davenport in the technology corridor and he anticipates the project to be fully permitted in the next six to nine months. However, he says, it's a challenge to convince lenders that it's time to build an office project. Because he anticipates office occupancies in the high 80s or low 90s by 2013, it's time now to pull the trigger and get started because it takes 12 to 18 months to complete a project. To get a loan, he says bankers will likely require 50% equity from here on out. The challenge will be to convince the money folks that "spec" isn't a four-letter word. (But "speculation" isan 11-letter-word. Just sayin'.)
Borrowing an old quote from a colleague, Steve says pre-leasing is for wimps. The time to develop is now or at least to think about it. He's surprised to see a reluctant and skeptical development community. Put a shovel in the ground in ?12 and deliver in '13 or ?14, he advises. When it comes to multifamily, he believes there will be a shortage of architects and various building professions if developers wait. ?I may be the most optimistic person here,? he says. We think the smile gives it away.
Commercial Texas prez Mike Kennedy says it was like a bomb exploded in ?08: everyone went underground and so did their confidence. Seeing other areas suffer makes it tough to believe that Austin is faring pretty well, he says. His firm sold a half-block area in downtown taking on the listing in August but not getting a lot of interest until January when it generated offers ?out the wazoo.? He sees lenders eyeing deals and anticipates a resurgence of development. Mike says Emerson Process Management's recent acquisition of Frontera Vista at La Frontera in Round Rock is a good indicator that things are accelerating.
Early in the schmoozing, we snapped sponsor Hill & Wilkinson?s Deren Wilcox and Scott Francis of JQ (in Prince-style move, it's the firm formerly known as Jaster-Quintanilla). Derek tells us Hill & Wilkinson will break ground later this summer on a new three-story almost 16k SF Independent Bank branch in Austin. The project will seek LEED Silver certification.
Before they could even get into the event space, we cornered Harvey-Cleary Builders? Jason Beers and Terracon Consultants?Hilary Johns, who tell us the two firms are working together on the Cirrus Logic Building downtown and the Quinlan Shopping Center in Steiner Ranch.
Hanging around the Bury+Partners' sponsor booth, we found Stream Realty's Todd Gilfillan, Bury+Partners' Jim Knight, event sponsor Heritage?s Shannon Perry, and Stream?s Jim Ballard. Jim tells us Austin-based Bury+Partners also has offices in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and (Jim?s hometown) Temple. Among the firm's multiple projects are the Market Street at Montgomery Farm in Dallas, Primrose at Monticello Park in San Antonio, and the Wildflower Center in Austin.