Spaces to Celebrate

By Hannah Wallace September 30, 2008

This issue provides a snapshot of the region’s commercial real estate market and, as expected, vacancy is increasing as businesses downsize or close. Commercial broker Brian Kennelly, co-chair of the Real Estate Oversight Committee of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, is hard pressed to find any real bright spots in the present market except, he says, the election season will soon be over and that means that we can all start focusing again on business.  

Kennelly says vacancies in the two-county region have gone up 5 percent to 7 percent in the last 12 months, and now hover just under 15 percent. “It’s the first time we’ve seen our vacancies above 12 percent,” he says. (Eight percent to 12 percent is considered healthy, he notes.) If Kennelly adds subleases into the mix, our vacancies stand at 18.3 percent—not good. Kennelly says most of the vacancies are due to “more right-sizing,” as companies such as homebuilders and mortgage brokers scale back. At the same time, rates have gone down 15 percent in the last six to eight months. If companies can get the financing, these lower prices mean a variety of great opportunities for tenants are out in the market. Take a look at the EDC’s Office Space Report on page 26 for a comprehensive list of rates and vacancies in commercial properties in Sarasota.

Also in this issue, you’ll find a roundup of the region’s top five commercial sales for the past 12 months, based on property appraiser records and information from commercial brokers. All five sales closed in the last half of 2007 (big 2008 transactions were noticeably absent), and when we compared the combined total sales price to the previous year’s top five, we noted a 40 percent drop in the dollar amount.  

Given this gloomy picture, we were heartened by the number and quality of architectural projects submitted to our fifth annual Commercial Designs of Distinction showcase. Twenty-six projects were submitted, and we think their striking, sophisticated architecture made this group our strongest to select from to date. The region’s architects took risks that paid off, stepping outside the ubiquitous Med-Rev style to create landmark, modernistic structures. Case in point: our cover image of Don Lawson’s design for the Manatee Association of Realtors—a big, bold and exciting structure for the future. You can view the eight winning designs on page 30.

We also celebrate the risk-taking nature of Anna Maria restaurateur Ed Chiles. Despite the down market, he’s forging ahead with two significant development projects—an affordable housing project on the mainland in Manatee County and a mixed-use project and revitalization of the five-block Pine Avenue on Anna Maria.

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