Conference Update: Despite Economy’s Rumblings, Atlanta Looking Up

Atlanta is on the rise, and now is the time for the commercial real estate industry to jump on the opportunities that are coming with the city’s growth, according to real estate experts at CPN’s annual Atlanta Property Opportunities Conference. Over 150 market executives attended the panel discussions, held this morning at the Grand Hyatt Atlanta in Buckhead. “Atlanta had experienced a big decline beginning in the ‘70s into 2000, but the city is back,” said Cheryl Strickland, managing director of tax allocation districts for the Atlanta Development Authority, who opened the conference as the keynote speaker. “And there is a lot more growth predicted, so think smart growth and infill.” The city expects a population of 7.3 million by 2030, and will account for over 80 percent of the growth in the state. Four factors have contributed to the city’s expansion, including “halfbacks,” who have moved from the Northeast down to Florida and have returned halfway, settling in Georgia, the Carolinas and Tennessee. Foreign immigrants, southern migration of a young population and urban revival are also affecting the city, according to Strickland. Among accolades as the number one city for relocation, a top city for business climate and one of the best cities for job growth, Atlanta has also seen an increase in leisure visitors, with such travel up 11 percent. Convention business is also up, and as one of the nation’s growing biotechnology markets, the city has attracted the Bio 2009 conference. Strickland also pointed out growing international interest in development, business and consulates. Despite the rumblings in the national economy, there are a lot of good things going for the Atlanta, Strickland concluded. “I hope you can see the opportunities,” she said. The keynote was followed by a state of the market panel led by some of Atlanta’s foremost real estate executives (pictured), who discussed the top drivers and concerns affecting today’s market. “My biggest concern going into 2008 was the Delta merger,” said Jim Ledbetter, president of the Southeast region for Transwestern, echoing an overall lack of fear of the sluggish economy’s effect on the city. “But I’m not bullish on a great year, although it won’t be a disaster.” Bruce Ford, president of Georgia and the Carolinas for GVA Advantis, pointed to strong job growth, as the city comes in third, behind Orlando and Raleigh-Durham, for the Southeast. “It is a strong economic engine and will continue to be,” he said. “It’s a liquidity crisis, not a real estate crisis,” Ledbetter continued. “The fundamentals are still good.” Atlanta especially has an advantage with its industrial market, which acts as a national distribution hub, noted Jim Bacchetta, vice president of Highwood Properties Inc.’s Atlanta division. The city will continue to support distribution and will remain ahead of the game in the Southeast. Many more companies have the urban corridor on their minds as they consider relocation decisions, and want public transportation as an option, said Richard Bowers, president of Richard Bowers & Co./TCN Worldwide. Even more people are using the MARTA system, he pointed out, so he would like to see the city make a big play for commuter rail. Ford agreed, pointing out that there are many areas with real estate opportunities, such as Cobb County, that are currently disconnected from the metro area. Traffic problems are also causing perception issues for the city; even though they have improved, they are overblown and can only be remedied by the city addressing them through a public relations campaign, Bacchetta added. This, coupled with the perceived water crisis, could do some damage to the city by lost company relocations. The state of the market panel was moderated by Scott Amoson, director of research for Colliers Spectrum Cauble. The conference also included panels on the office sector, development and capital markets.