South Florida

If there's a glitch in the investor's view of South Florida and Tampa Bay area , real estate, it's finding enough quality developments to satisfy a ravenous and growing appetite.

"The money is definitely out there to purchase these properties," says Doug Rothschild, a principal in Tampa-based CLW Realty Group Inc. "It's almost unlimited as to what the sellers have been getting. It's a true feeding frenzy."

And nowhere is real estate fever any more blistering than in South Florida, where office, industrial and retail interest consumes every plausible intersection and piece of dirt.

"I think the growth is much more dramatic in South Florida than anywhere else," says Ezra Katz, president of the Aztec Group Inc., an investment banking firm based in Coconut Grove. "There is no sector of the market where anybody can complain."

Tom Trimble, senior vice president and head of acquisitions for The MIG Cos. in West Palm Beach, says his company is aggressively buying apartment communities and is also building in Hollywood and Pembroke Pines.

"Florida is very healthy right now," Trimble says. "We've got a strong economy with population and employment growth. Are we paying more for older properties? Yes. But are they achieving higher rents? Yes. We're happy, and we'd like to do more deals in Florida."

The institutional buyer is very interested in the Southeast and Florida in particular, says Todd Sheets, senior vice president of real estate and investment banking for St. Petersburg-based Raymond James & Associates. "These are areas that are going to have job and population increases over the short and long term; therefore, they ought to be good for real estate investors."

Dade County

Most of the talk here is about Airport West; the swollen industrial and office development area around Miami International Airport (MIA), itself in the throes of ever more expansion.

Big logistics movers, freight-forwarding companies such as Burlington and Nippon Express USA, have taken substantial positions around MIA, boosting the position of developments such as Easton-Babcock & Associates' 300-acre International Corporate Park.

"We have 460,000 sq. ft. built and filled," says Ed Easton, president of the Coral Gables-based development company. "We anticipate breaking ground on another 350,000 sq. ft. by the end of this year -- far ahead of our expectations."

Rates in the new space are $6.50 to $6.75 on industrial gross; International Corporate Park is ultimately planned to offer 4.1 million sq. ft.

"The hottest product is bulk industrial warehouse by the airport," says Joe Jackson Sr., a partner in RJS Jackson Group of Boca Raton. "Institutions are trying to buy into it, but there isn't much around."

Jackson says investor-quality office buildings are gaining on industrial space as the apple of institutional investors' eyes.

The Hogan Group, Miami, completed the 10th building in its Waterford complex in March. The 163,000 sq. ft., fullservice office building is expected to be 90% leased by December; rates are in the low $20s. The entire Waterford complex is owned by Teachers Insurance & Annuity Association of New York. Dick Neve, senior vice president of the Hogan Group, expects the next Waterford tower, a nine-story, 210,000 sq. ft. building, to be under construction in September.

A difference of opinion exists over whether institutional capital is interested in central business districts. "We're seeing it express strong interest in industrial, but a growing amount is in office, suburban and CBD," says Pryse Elam, managing director of Trammell Crow Co., South Florida.

But if that's a trend, it may be short-lived.

"New companies coming in have turned their backs on the CBD," says Neve. "They want to be west and near the airport. Concessions have gone away. Free rent and lease buyouts have gone away. Office rates are going to firm 10% over what they were in '94 and '95."

One bellwether test of CBD interest in downtown Miami may be the offering of 1.2 million sq. ft. First Union tower, where the assumed asking price is above $200 per sq. ft.

A significant port expansion of four new berths near Bayside is currently under way. And Maritime Park is the location of a planned new arena for the NBA's Miami Heat. Meanwhile, other proposed downtown projects, including a new performing arts center and a world trade center, are getting long in the tooth.

What's somewhat strange is that with retail properties in Dade County operating at high vacancies, there aren't a glut of sellers in the market. "It's slowed," the Aztec Group's Katz says. "We haven't seen much activity, (but) it's very much a seller's market. Financing is readily available for existing centers." Katz financed development and construction of the 320,000 sq. ft. Dadeland Station on US 1, just east of Dadeland Mall, for Berkowitz Development. "Dadeland is the most active site in Dade," Katz says.

The big daddy of them all, 1.4 million sq. ft. Dadeland Mall itself, is in the midst of a phased re-design; topping its plans: an entry and exit all its own to the Palmetto Expressway. But that's just the beginning. Next up is a second level, already approved by local authorities.

"We're not going to do it immediately," says Rob Stuart, director of corporate communications for Compass Retail of Atlanta. "Our next step will be an interior renovation, following the traffic improvements. At that time, they'll pour the foundation for the second floor. It's a complex, long-term project."

An idea whose time never came, the Bakery Center in South Miami, is no more. The attractive but impractical multistory retail/entertainment project is being demolished and replaced by The Shops at Sunset Place, a project of Simon Property Group, Indianapolis. Intended to be driven by entertainment-oriented retail, the 550,000 sq. ft. center is currently slated for a spring 1998 opening. The only firm leasing deal announced so far is for a 24-screen AMC movie theater.

Roger LeBlanc, executive vice president of The Michael Swerdlow Cos., Hollywood, Fla., says that his company and The Codina Group, Miami, are involved in a 1.5 million sq. ft. proposed mall on land west of Miami International Airport (near the junction of the Florida Turnpike and the Dolphin Expressway) that will be "something different than anyone has ever seen before."

Pretty big boast, what's he have in mind?

For starters, a million sq. ft. of power retail, similar to Sawgrass Mills. Seen that before? How about a 500,000 sq. ft. theme park in the center of the mall?

Broward County

Fort Lauderdale has a multitude of major new developments in varying stages.

Beach Place, expected to open in November, is the name of a mixed-use project on the beach attaching 100,000 sq. ft. of leaseable retail space, a la Cocowalk in Coconut Grove, to an 18-story Marriott timeshare/hotel resort. The U-shaped trade area itself is stacked in three stories; the beachfront hotel begins atop a six-floor parking garage to the rear.

"The first and third floors are fully leased; the second floor is 85% leased. I expect it will all be leased by the time we open," says Richard Mooney, managing director of the developing company, Beach Place Partners of Fort Lauderdale. "The beach is the cornerstone of the effort by the city to redevelop Fort Lauderdale Beach and change its character, and this will be the single most important development on the beach."

Funny, that's what Roger LeBlanc almost said relative to downtown Fort Lauderdale and his project, Brickell Station.

Billed as a 300,000 sq. ft. entertainment center and planned for the banks of the New River, the centerpiece of Brickell Station is a 24-screen Regal Cinemas complex (80,000 sq. ft.) and an adjacent 50,000 sq. ft. adult entertainment center, Regal Funscape. LeBlanc also has letters of intent in hand from several restaurants, claiming 35,000 sq. ft. so far, and another 18,000 sq. ft. in nightclub space is being negotiated.

Now in the design phases, LeBlanc hopes to break ground by this December and open the doors in November 1997.

Downtown Fort Lauderdale is a hotbed of office activity as well, including the 207,000 sq. ft. Las Olas Centre, which will open 95% leased on Dec. 1. The Stiles Corp. of Fort Lauderdale started on the new spec property two years ago because its realty arm couldn't find a 20,000 sq. ft. downtown block of space for one potential tenant and then identified several others in the market.

With the success of that property in hand, Stiles purchased a six-acre downtown parcel with two buildings from Barnett Bank. It quickly leased up the smaller of the two and began renovating the larger, 82,000 sq. ft. building, in which it will move its own corporate headquarters. When Stiles acquired the buildings, rents averaged $22 per sq. ft. Prices are now $26 to $27.

"What makes Fort Lauderdale unique is the city started a master plan 15 years ago called Riverwalk to upgrade downtown," says Tom Kates, president of Stiles Realty Co. "They've done a lot of things to get people downtown, including building a performing arts center. There's also a high-end residential market, Las Olas Isles, within five minutes of downtown. And it's on the water, which makes it a unique setting."

Stiles is also active in West Broward, where its Sawgrass International Corporate Park, a 600-acre park, now has more than 1 million sq. ft. adjacent to Sawgrass Mills, an outlet mall which is second only to Disney World as Florida's leading tourist destination. Corporate Centre at Sawgrass, Stiles' latest building in the park, is entirely spec.

Larry Horowitz, president of The Peter Lawrence Cos., Tampa, says his company's biggest problem in Miami is finding space to lease. "We're looking to Broward County for expansions," he says. "The airport there is expanding, so is the seaport."

Palm Beach County

The two truly magic words in Palm Beach County are Pembroke Pines.

"We have been going nuts for the past five years," says Bob Sherman, director of development and leasing for Ross Realty Investment Inc., which is based in Pembroke Pines. Sherman says his company owns and/or manages 2 million sq. ft of retail in South Broward, where occupancy stands at 98%, "much of it absorbed in the last few years." Driving it is intense residential growth since Hurricane Andrew struck Dade County in 1992. More than 30,000 homes are in development here, and Sherman says the population is expected to double to 150,000 by the year 2000.

Wellington is the site of The Taubman Co.'s next planned mall, a proposed 1.4 million sq. ft. center built on a 466-acre, mixed-use site at the southwest corner of US 441/State Road 7 and Forest Hills Boulevard. Described another way, it's next to the Palm Beach Polo Club. Mark Bulmash, development director for the Bloomfield Hills, Mich., company, says the design is working its way through the regulatory approvals process with an eye toward a fall 1999 opening.

Palm Beach County is experiencing tremendous overall growth compared to just three years ago. Boca Raton, in particular, has attracted corporate headquarters from elsewhere in South Florida and around the country.

"As space tightens in Boca," says Richard Tambone, president of Tambone Real Estate Development in Palm Beach Gardens, "new businesses are going past Boca to Boynton Beach and West Palm Beach, which have never experienced this ;kind of growth."

Tampa Bay area

Commercial real estate trading in Tampa is brisk, according to Woody Coley, managing director of Trammell Crow's North Florida division. "Institutional investors have returned to the suburban office markets in Westshore and Rocky Point," he says. "Recent purchase prices have been very close to replacement cost, moving well above the highly discounted prices of just a couple years ago."

"Investors are scouring the market for good buys," says Ron Massey, senior vice president of Hogan * Burt in Tampa. "Knowledgeable, sophisticated buyers are having trouble finding good product. Those properties that haven't already sold will."

"Everything from the pension funds to individual investors and advisers are buying," says CLW Realty Group's Rothschild. "We think you're going to see every Class-A investor-quality building trade once or twice before 2000."

Rothschild says that Class-A buildings in Westshore and Rocky Point recently have traded for $115 to $135 per sq. ft.

Five years ago, downtown Tampa had one of the worst imbalances in the country. But a number of new arrivals -- including Raytheon, AmSouth Bank, a new hockey arena for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a new federal courthouse and the Florida Aquarium -- have helped reverse the vacancy numbers.

"The situation in Tampa is steady growth," says Horowitz of The Peter Lawrence Cos. "Leasing is way up. Our occupancy levels are in the high 90s, the highest its been since the late-1980s."

Still, Horowitz tempers his optimism. "We'd love to begin some new development in Tampa, but we don't see the rents justifying it yet."

One factor in the overall strength of the Tampa Bay market, including Pinellas County's Carillon and Gateway districts, has been the growth of back-office operations such as MCI, Time Warner, Intermedia, MetLife and USF&G. "What that has done is fill up existing space and create demand for future space," says Stuart Rogel, executive director of the Tampa Bay Partnership.

Lee Arnold, CEO and chairman of the board of Clearwater-based Colliers-Arnold, says that as Class-A space has been absorbed and Class-B reaches absorption: "build-to-suit is the name of the game. There is a lot of user speculation on land for build-to-suits. Redevelopment is also taking a lot of our focus and energy."

In the Tampa Bay retail market, it wasn't long ago that some pundits suggested Eastlake Square, a former DeBartolo property, be sacrificed to some nonretail purpose. The aging mall was taking a beating at the hands of University Mall even before last year's successful opening of nearby Brandon Town Center. But a study by Fort Lauderdale-based Gumberg Asset Management Corp. pooh-poohed the conventional wisdom and suggested there was still retail potential in the site.

As a result, the mall's owner John Hancock Insurance Co. gave Gumberg the thumbs-up for a multimillion-dollar re-imaging, re-merchandising and remodeling of Eastlake Square.

"We have an owner who is committed to making it happen again," says Bob Saffran, vice president of asset management for Gumberg. "I think it will make a tremendous difference."

St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Bob Andelman's new book, Mean Business, written with former Scott Paper Co. CEO Albert J. Dunlap, was published this month by Random House/Times Books.

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