Tired Of Traffic, More Miami Office Tenants Seek Shelter In Suburbs
The flow of new residents to Miami has brought job opportunities, spurred development and raised the city’s profile as an international destination. But the increased population has also helped Miami earn a more dubious distinction: Its roads are now among the most congested in the world.
The growing gridlock is starting to reshape Miami's office market, as employers trying to persuade workers to come back to the office consider locations farther from the city's congested urban core.
“Access is definitely high on the priority list for decision-making in South Florida these days,” said Matthew Cheezem, the Miami-based vice chair of the global occupier services practice at Cushman & Wakefield.
“It's not easy to get your people back into the office, and if you want to encourage and promote that as a priority, making it convenient for your employees to get in and out and not have the excuse of fighting traffic or sitting in a logjam on Brickell Avenue for 30 minutes is a big consideration.”
Miami had the ninth-worst traffic globally in 2022, climbing from 32nd place the year before, according to the mobility tracking and solutions provider Inrix. Miami’s commuters lost an average of 105 hours in traffic last year, according to Inrix, a 59% increase from the previous year. At the same time that it becomes more cumbersome to get to the city center, suburban markets are transforming into more attractive office locations, brokers said.
Suburban Miami, which has roughly double the total office inventory as the urban core of Downtown and Brickell, saw 1.2M SF of leasing activity through the first three quarters of the year, nearly three times the 451K SF of deals signed in the central business district, according to Cushman & Wakefield.
Downtown Miami has the highest vacancy rate of any submarket at 21.7%, and the urban core had around 40K SF in negative absorption in the first nine months of the year compared to 69K SF of new move-ins in the suburbs.
Suburban office rents are around 36% cheaper than the urban core, and several neighborhoods outside of Downtown and Brickell have seen new developments sprout up that have brought in similar restaurants and amenities to what is available in the city center.
“Everybody is looking for convenience, and what we're starting to see is a shift from the traditional markets,” said Tomas Sulichin, the president of the commercial division at RelatedISG. “Tenants are starting to implement that mentality of live, work and play locally.”
Coral Gables has seen an inflow of office tenants to its walkable, tree-lined streets, with 299K SF of leasing activity through the first three quarters — within 10K SF of Downtown Miami's pace through the same period.
Over a third of Miami’s annual leasing activity through the third quarter was in the area surrounding and west of Miami International Airport. The submarket includes Doral, a city that has embarked on a multiyear master plan to transform its downtown into a walkable mixed-use neighborhood, and the Waterford Business District, a 250-acre office complex where owners have invested $37M in capital improvements, including a new café and daycare center.
Blanca Commercial Real Estate has brokered more than 100K SF in leases this year at the Waterford complex. Tere Blanca, the firm’s founder and CEO, said tenants were drawn to the district because of its ease of access and the range of amenities offered, including a tenant app, weekly food trucks on-site and waterfront yoga classes.
“It’s truly a very central location,” she said. “It’s right off the highway. You don’t need to navigate other streets to get there, so the accessibility and central location are very appealing.”
Office occupiers are prioritizing ease of access and neighborhood amenities in their location decisions more today than in previous years because the pandemic shifted workers’ expectations, brokers said. Even as businesses upgrade their spaces to lure employees back, workers' top reason for not wanting to return to the office full time is that they don’t like the commute, according to Gallup polling.
Commutes become an issue for employees when they last longer than 45 minutes, said Whitley Collins, the global president focused on office occupiers at CBRE. While the average commute time in Miami is 31 minutes, according to an analysis by the website MoneyGeek, worsening traffic could eventually lead to employees leaving their jobs.
“That’s why the location strategy is so much around where the talent is,” Collins said. “They may commute 30 minutes for you, but as soon as it becomes 45, they’re going to go to someone else who’s in their area.”
Access and proximity to Miami’s mass transit options is a priority for some firms, especially those relocating from cities with robust transit infrastructure like New York, brokers said. But the arrival of residents from other states hasn't yet translated into increased ridership.
Miami’s Metrorail travels north and south but leaves western areas reliant on bus rides. The city's Metromover electric trains are restricted to its urban core between Brickell and the Arts & Entertainment District. The city’s bus system reaches the vast majority of Miami-Dade County and sees the greatest number of users but leaves riders on most routes in the same traffic as daily commuters.
Ridership across all of Miami’s mass transit options is down 2% from 2019 levels for the year ending in September. The 13 million people who rode the Metrorail represented a 28% decrease in ridership from 2019, while Metromover usage is down 26%. The bus system is the only mass transit option to see ridership grow, with over 56 million trips taken in the 12 months ending in September, a 13% increase from 2019.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is pushing a plan to add a Metrorail line that would extend north through Miami Gardens to Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins. But construction on the line remains at least 18 months away, with the county working on finalizing details before it plans to ask the federal government to help fund the $2B expansion.
Even with the rail expansion, however, Miami residents will need to change their mentality that the city is — and will always be — a car-centric place, Blanca said.
“We all need to get out of our mindset of only using our cars to get around, but the fact is that there's a psychological barrier,” she said. “In South Florida, that needs to be addressed in terms of being married to your car all the time.”