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How Soaring S.F. Land Prices are Changing the Development Game

With the price of land in S.F. skyrocketing, making funding a challenge, this morning we convened the city's top developers at Hotel Nikko to tell you how they're getting projects off the ground.

We snapped California State University senior chief Jim Sowerbrower and Suffolk Construction president Andy Ball having a post-panel pow wow. Jim told the 200 attendees at Bisnow's Construction & Development Summit that CSU is able to self-fund academic buildings based on its strong credit and ability to pay, as opposed to the state's. That will open doors for campuses to move forward on buildings that have been on the boards for some time, he says. In San Jose, there are 1.3M SF slated to get going in the next decade, and a lot of new funding should be available (that campus alone would be a $600M-plus endeavor). Across all Bay Area campuses, incoming projects will be in the billions of dollars

Boston Properties senior project manager Michael Tymoff says availability of construction financing is not an issue for his firm. Instead, rising land and construction costs are the limiting factor. Look at Beijing-based Oceanwide's deal to buy the plot at First and Mission for $300/SF for a site without entitlements. That's more than double what his firm got for the Salesforce Tower site ($140/SF) two and a half years ago. He says Boston looked at Mission Bay Blocks 26 and 27, but was priced out (Alexandria got it for the JV with Uber). "We couldn't make the numbers work." 

Kilroy Realty SVP Mike Grisso hopes the scarcity of land in S.F. translates to development in Oakland (we just told you the East Bay was on fire), but rents aren't there yet (30% to 40% lower than S.F.). The biggest and best bang for the buck in this region is to invest in transit, he says, which can get people from more affordable locations to where the jobs are. Mike says unfortunately there's not federal and state support for transit projects like there used to be. The solution is in public-private partnerships, he says. 

Andy thinks we could take advantage of today's low oil prices and implement a gas tax to help fund infrastructure projects. His firm is bullish on Oakland and has lots of pre-construction activity there, where it costs 10% less than S.F. He says there's plenty of equity in the market and no lack of debt financing. He's seeing crazy money and partnerships coming from the Chinese, thanks to their own GDP falling.

We snapped Allen Matkins partner Raymond Buddie after he moderated a panel. Mike told him it's not land costs and funding hurdles that are the biggest problem, but instead Prop M, and the real estate community needs to figure out solutions. Michael points out one perk of Prop M as a landlord is it will keep rents high, but one negative is its impact on existing office space. Class-B and C spaces are the ones young tech companies need in their early years as they are growing. But if development gets capped thanks to Prop M, those buildings will get upgraded.