Bay Area Ports Hopeful For Turning Point In 2022
Bay Area ports, often overlooked compared with the shipping juggernauts in Southern California, have experienced their own shifts in the years since the pandemic first arrived on U.S. shores, and could be on the road to recovery.
Industrial performance around the Port of Oakland has been strong this year, according to a recent Cushman & Wakefield report on U.S. ports. Oakland’s port ranked as one of the top 10 across the country in terms of import and container volume, and the industrial real estate around the port carries a vacancy rate around 3.7%.
Rents have moved as expected with a low vacancy rate, with average overall rents hitting $13.39 per SF, making Oakland one of several markets with double-digit average rents.
The Port of Oakland does still have its challenges though, with a drop in total container volume of 5.5% from last year.
Plus, a prospective $12B stadium plan from the Oakland Athletics has become a major point of contention in the shipping industry, with critics arguing the stadium will ultimately hurt shipping traffic in and around the port. In addition, there are legal battles from several directions about the feasibility of the stadium’s development.
At San Francisco’s port, primarily used for cruise departures, infrastructure investment has been a development hurdle for port-adjacent space according to Port of San Francisco Deputy Director of Real Estate & Development Rebecca Benassini.
“That's a key focus for us right now, in intensifying some of the uses, is if we can bring some federal monies to bear for infrastructure, then those pads could become ready for, you know, potentially warehouse and that sort of use. Right now, we have a lot of raw land that's just used for construction laydown,” she said.
Industrial performance across San Francisco County in general remains strong, with an average vacancy rate of 5.5%.The strongest tenants in the market tend to be last-mile, biotech and tech tenants.
Demand for industrial operations and shipping has been steady, after significant drop-off during the pandemic, Port of San Francisco Maritime Deputy Director Andre Coleman said. But challenges persist.
“I will say for the region in general, you know, there have been challenges in decline in vessel traffic on the base," he said.
A staff report from San Francisco Port Authority noted that its overall portfolio performance is tied heavily to regional commercial real estate performance, and particularly San Francisco’s own CRE trends — meaning the city’s struggling office vacancy rates can be a headache for the port.
The report also notes that leasing activity has generally fallen since the pandemic, but that the port is working with real estate consulting firms in order to adjust its rental rates and tailor leasing incentives to attract tenants.
Port leasing volume and new lease agreements dropped steadily over the last three years according to the report, dropping from 76 new agreements in 2019 to only 48 through September 2022. New agreements, however, rose slightly for 2020 and 2021, from 84 to 85.
Vacancy rates within the port have also seen slight improvement, with a 6.7% vacancy rate calculated at the start of 2022, compared to 7.2% for the previous year. Across different submarkets near the port however, these numbers differ greatly. China Basin, for example, saw a dip in vacancy, from 24.6% in 2021 to 16% at the start of 2022.
Fisherman’s Wharf also saw a dramatic shift in vacancy between 2019 and 2022. For 2019, the Wharf’s vacancy rate was calculated at 0.9%, which rose to 4.5% in 2021. By the start of 2022, that number dropped to 0.1%.
Coleman is optimistic that 2022 has been a turning point for the Port of San Francisco.
“This is expected to be our highest cruise year, a banner year for us, in that we're expecting 115 [cruise ship calls]. So, that is significant in our economic recovery for both the port and the city. You know, for bringing tourism back to the waterfront and to the city,” Coleman said.