Newmark released its fourth-quarter 2018 office reports for the greater Philadelphia region. Both the Philadelphia Central Business District (CBD) and Southeastern Pennsylvania had space returned to the market from tenants utilizing space more efficiently. However, the CBD and Southeastern Pennsylvania concluded the year with positive absorption and an uptick in asking rents. In the Southern New Jersey market, American Water opened its new Camden headquarters, while the Delaware market contended with rising vacancy in the Wilmington CBD.
The Philadelphia CBD posted 1.8 million square feet of positive absorption for 2018, while vacancy fell 20 basis points year over year to 13.0 percent. Three new properties were added to the CBD’s inventory in 2018. The largest was the 1.3 million-square-foot Comcast Technology Center, which completed construction in the second quarter; Comcast is the sole occupant of this property. During the fourth quarter, 2400 Market Street (615,481 square feet) delivered with Aramark secured as the anchor tenant, occupying 300,000 square feet. Another delivery in the fourth quarter was 3675 Market Street (350,000 square feet), where Cambridge Innovation Center opened a 127,000-square-foot facility and Science Center relocated its headquarters to 50,000 square feet at the new property. Science Center previously occupied 30,000 square feet at 3711 Market Street.
Several existing CBD users solidified plans to relocate within the market. Craig Scheuerle, Newmark executive managing director, noted, “The CBD’s rebirth as a live-work-play destination for a pool of young, educated talent grew the tenant base in the CBD by over 700,000 square feet over the last two years.” Some tenants will consolidate into less space while others expanded or leased equivalent space. For instance, Willis Towers Watson will reduce its space envelope from 209,000 square feet at Centre Square - East Tower to 97,448 square feet at 1735 Market Street in the second quarter of 2020, while Macquarie Group will move from 150,000 square feet at One Commerce Square to 140,000 square feet at One Hundred Independence in the third quarter of 2020. Reliance Standard Insurance Company will relocate in the first quarter of 2021, from 140,000 square feet at Two Commerce Square to 152,000 square feet at 1700 Market Street.
Both Class A and Class B direct rental rates rose from one year ago due to a combination of increased demand, higher construction costs and new ownership. At $35.05 per square foot, the Class A average direct rental rate increased $2.43 per square foot from the fourth quarter of 2017; for the second consecutive quarter, rental rates reached record-high levels north of $35.00 per square foot. Class B asking rental rates also reached record highs, increasing $0.36 per square foot year-over-year to $29.33 per square foot.
Southeastern Pennsylvania recorded its ninth consecutive year of positive absorption in 2018, posting 651,480 square feet of additional occupancy. Year-over-year, vacancy fell 90 basis points to 14.1 percent. During the year, some tenants expanded their footprint. For instance, Keystone Sports & Entertainment occupied another 23,000 square feet at 2501 Seaport Drive in the Central/Southern Delaware submarket, while The National Comprehensive Cancer Network moved from 17,000 square feet at 275 Commerce Drive in Fort Washington to 65,000 square feet at 3025 Chemical Road in the Blue Bell/Plymouth Meeting submarket.
However, there were tenants who shrunk their space requirements. Noted Michael Maloney, Newmark managing director, “The amount of space returned to the market is not a sign of an upcoming economic slowdown. Tenants are densifying due to such factors as switching to an open floor plan concept, the increased hiring of remote or contract workers and the rise in mergers and acquisitions.” In the second quarter, Transamerica relocated from 90,300 square feet at 300 Eagleview Boulevard in the Exton/Malvern submarket to 9,500 square feet at neighboring 350 Eagleview Boulevard. The firm required less space when certain service line jobs were outsourced. Another example was Teva, which vacated 60,000 square feet at 2 West Liberty Boulevard (Exton/Malvern submarket) in the fourth quarter and offered the space to the market for sublease as part of a company-wide restructuring plan.
Office vacancy in the overall Southern New Jersey market declined 30 basis points from the third quarter of 2018 to 15.8 percent. The market has continued to chip away at the spike in vacancy at the beginning of 2018, when it shot up 160 basis points to 16.0 percent. For the year, the Southern New Jersey market posted 40,255 square feet of negative absorption. Although this is somewhat disappointing, the market ended strong with 237,967 square feet of positive absorption due to the occupancy of the new American Water headquarters building on the Camden waterfront.
The delivery of American Water’s 222,376-square-foot office property at 1 Water Street, left the 375,000-square-foot Camden Tower-the eventual new home of Connor Strong and Buckelew, NFI and the Michaels Organization-as the only major Camden office project under construction. Anne Klein, Newmark executive managing director, explained, “The attractiveness of Camden for further development largely depends on whether state tax incentives are extended. In addition, Liberty Property Trust’s decision to dispose of its office portfolio to focus on industrial investment leaves open the question as to who will take over Liberty’s three remaining parcels for office development on the Camden waterfront.”
On the investment front, private rather than institutional buyers were more in evidence in 2018. Investment buyers are increasingly seeing secondary and tertiary markets like Southern New Jersey as worthwhile opportunities, and their participation is affecting the character of the Southern New Jersey market. Two major office sales took place during the fourth quarter of 2018. Newmark brokered both properties on behalf of PNC Bank, which sold them to SFA for a total of $5.8 million. The first building, a 77,545-square-foot space at 312 West Route 38, traded for $4.3 million, or $56 per square foot, while the second, a 26,176-square-foot building at 1950 Route 70, traded for $1.5 million, or $58 per square foot.
Vacancy in the Delaware office market continued to rise through 2018, increasing year-over-year by 30 basis points to end the fourth quarter at 17.1 percent. Capital One’s departure from 145,080 square feet at 301 West 11th Street in the Wilmington CBD pushed the CBD vacancy up 230 basis points from the third quarter to 21.1 percent. Bank of America will vacate a combined 517,307 square feet at Bracebridge I and III in the second quarter of 2019. Per Neal Dangello, Newmark senior managing director, “Despite rising vacancy putting a strain on the CBD market, this is a good opportunity for a tenant seeking a deal on premium space.”
Quarter-over-quarter, the Delaware market’s average direct asking rental rate increased by $0.60 per square foot to a record high of $25.41 per square foot. The market reached the year’s lowest rental rate of $24.81 per square foot in the third quarter but rebounded in the fourth. Every submarket registered a rent increase, with the largest coming from the Wilmington West submarket, which jumped $0.64 per square foot to $27.21 per square foot, attributable to a rent increase on almost 47,000 square feet of available space at 4250 Lancaster Pike.
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