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Financing draws top attendance at NAIOP

The mood was noticeably upbeat at RealMart '94, the 1994 annual convention of NAIOP -- the Association for Commercial Real Estate, held Oct. 12-15 in Boston, as attendees compared views of the current commercial real estate market. The interest shown in financing topics and global real estate initiatives reflected the more positive tone of today's market, according to 1995 NAIOP president Paul Novak, principal of Dallas-based Bedrock Partners, and Thomas J. Bisacquino, NAIOP executive vice president.

With Boston being one of the nation's financial centers, "attendance was heavily oriented toward investors," Bisacquino said. "We got a strong sense that money is available.

"The demand side is the real question," he continued. "The market today is completely different from two years ago. Today investors are chasing deals."

"People in the industry are beginning to feel better," Novak observed, "but on a guarded basis. We're seeing indications to that effect throughout most of the country. Most sectors are showing improvement, with the office market, particularly, showing increases in occupancy rates.

"In the Northeast corridor, we're seeing and hearing more optimism, especially in the Boston area," Novak noted. Other markets, such as Denver, he said, are showing strong signs of recovering. Southern California has probably bottomed out, he said.

As to the interest in global topics, Bisacquino pointed out, "NAIOP members are getting increasingly involved in development overseas, such as Dana Rowan of the Recovery Group, Boston, in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union; Jim Watson of Koll International, Newport Beach, Calif., active in Mexico; and Brandy Birtcher of Birtcher, in Mexico and Japan." He noted that the 1995 NAIOP meeting in Las Vegas will include an emphasis on globalization along with financing and redevelopment.

Gradual improvement in the nation's office markets was reported at RealMart '94 by Dr. David L. Birch, president of Cognetics Inc., Cambridge, Mass., which tracks U.S. businesses in order to anticipate their needs for office, industrial and retail space.

"The sites that prosper and your clients will be very different in the future," Birch told NAIOP conferees. "We find that we will need to be building about one-third as much space in the next 10 years as we did in the previous 10."

Companies that Birch believes will be the predominant growth type during the next 30 years will be "gazelles," firms that are fast-growing, entrepreneurial and volatile. To be successful in the next 10 years, find a way to accommodate these entrepreneurial firms, Birch said.

California has the most "gazelles," with "33,000 explosively growing companies." It also had the most population gains from 1980 to 1992, followed by Texas, Florida, Georgia and Arizona.

The markets with the greatest growth in office employment from now to 2004 are Atlanta, which will gain 162,000 people; Los Angeles, with a 125,000 gain; San Francisco, 123,000; Dallas, 111,000; and Miami, 96,000.

Willard G. Rouse III, CEO of Liberty Property Trust, Malvern, Pa., said, "We won't see a lot of new development in this country for a long, long time." But, on the other hand, he believes "we will see more money being invested in real estate in the next 18 months than most of us can believe."

Rouse predicted that terms such as "big box" and "office park" will be renamed or repackaged as "high cube" and "suburban employment center," respectively, to make them again acceptable.

He advocated that more fortunate developers help developers in need who deserve help -- "within the limits of good business judgment."

Joseph Gyourko, director of research at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Real Estate Center in Philadelphia, called for a new national urban aid formula with incentives. "Poverty programs, such as the Community Reinvestment Act, [are] actually encouraging concentrations of poverty by practicing reverse discrimination," Gyourko said. "Give more money to certain cities with more problems, but also reward those cities that are doing the most to remedy their problems and those providing basic services." The main criteria, he believes, should not be fairness but efficiency.

Keynote speaker Marshall Loeb, editor-at-large with Fortune Magazine in New York, observed, "We've never faced such a spotty, fractionated economy." He offered some predictions for business for the next 10 years:

* inflation will remain moderate, interest rates won't rise much more and the U.S. stock market should do well;

* in the face of an unprecedented period of global competition, companies and countries that embrace the new information technology will prosper;

* whether Democrat or Republican, everyone is speaking up on the need to stimulate enterprise;

* women will be rising to much loftier positions of power;

* education is the fastest growing socio-economic problem, particularly the fact that public schools are not educating people to get jobs. A clash between the haves and the have-nots will occur; and

* the most valuable commodity in the global marketplace will be brain power.

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