St. Louis Envisions Relatively Smooth ’08

The St. Louis market “will sustain its healthy gains and weather the short-term problems currently causing concern.” That was the theme of a Colliers Turley Martin Tucker presentation on Jan. 24 at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. And while, as always, not every market sector deserves as much optimism as the locals would like to generate, the St. Louis metro area does have some reasons to sleep well at night. St. Louis is “a good market for people who have weak hearts, or weak stomachs,” Keith Zeff, director of research for CTMT, joked to CPN. Investors who want to balance the volatility of their assets in top-tier cities would do well to look to St. Louis, characterized by Zeff as a “no-boom, no-bust kind of city.”Steady employment growth (18,000 new jobs last year) helps, as does the recession-resistant nature of health care, one of the metro area’s major industries. At 1.5 million square feet, net office absorption in 2007 hit a figure that the market hadn’t seen since 2000. The result was a drop in office vacancy from 13.4 percent to 11.8 percent, though that glosses over a major split between the downtown and suburban markets. Suburban Class A space is tight, at just 6.8 percent vacancy, Zeff said, while downtown labors under nearly 17 percent, with additional space coming on the market in 2010 or 2011 with the completion of Ballpark Village, The Cordish Co.’s $650 million redevelopment of the former Busch Stadium site. And though there are numerous large blocks available downtown, probably to be swapped among some big law firms over the next 24 months, such blocks are rare in the suburbs. Although industrial absorption slowed (1.8 million square feet), vacancy held steady at a healthy 5.9 percent. One contributor was the demolition or conversion of more than 1 million square feet; Zeff explained that part of that was the conversion of older downtown multi-story industrial space into loft residential condos. Third party logistics firms are big–and growing–players in the suburban warehouse/distribution market. Finally, if the proof of a market’s desirability is whether people pony up the cash to invest there, CTMT would point to a record amount of real estate investment, more than $3 billion, in the St. Louis market last year. Though two retail transactions accounted for nearly half of that total, investment in office and industrial assets also grew. And more than $1.25 billion of the total, about 40 percent, was from investors new to the St. Louis market.