Return of the New Shopping Center

For quite a while there has been very few new shopping centers being developed. Many people may have even questioned whether there would ever be any new significant shopping centers. Apparently, times have changed. In rapid succession, I have been engaged to do the lease up of two brand new, big time, large scale shopping centers.

Liberty Center is a new mixed use center being developed in Liberty Township, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati. Liberty Center will have over 750,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space, together with 75,000 square feet of office space, 240,000 square feet of residential apartments, and a hotel. Construction has started and leases have been executed. Grand Opening is scheduled for October, 2015.

Metropica is a new mixed use center being developed in Sunrise, Florida. Metropica will have over 450,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space, and it too will include office space, residential apartments, and a hotel. This project is just starting development but projects to be an impressive, high profile development. Grand Opening is scheduled for Spring, 2016.


Retail must be back, and not wholly replaced by the internet.

The New Water Fountain

 Recently, I had the opportunity to visit our firm's new Columbus, Ohio offices.  The office design and space use is so refreshing and sharp.  What caught my attention most was the creative re-design/re-purposing of the office kitchen (picture above).  No longer a galley room with a microwave, refrigerator and a toaster; today's office kitchen is similar to the open kitchens in our homes and the social collaborative spaces in coffee shops (which many use as defacto offices when out and about).  The New York Times picked up on this trend not long ago in an article describing variations on the theme of social networking spaces.  So, while office size contracts, the space dedicated to collaboration and networking expands.  

Re-Purposing for the Hospitality Industry

It seems that old is new again !  In cities throughout the U.S. buildings originally built for a specific purpose: banks, office buildings, schools and warehouses are being converted or "re-purposed" into other uses, but in particular into restaurants and hotels.  In Cincinnati alone there are three projects undergoing renovation for their new life as hotels (Old School for the Performing Arts, Enquirer Building and Bartlett Building). Recently, theNew York Times highlighted examples of re-purposing which are on-going throughout the country.  While this is not a new or novel idea, what is exciting and interesting is the focus on hospitality.  Could that signal that financing is flowing into hospitality uses in favor of other traditional uses ? Or, that central business districts where older buildings are generally situated are having a renaissance ? Or, both ?  These projects are ripe for historic and new market tax credit financing.  So, keep an eye out for the opportunity to save a piece of history and culture and bring life into your central business district.


Top 10 Things You Should Know About Historic Tax Credits

Earlier this fall, the National Park Service celebrated the 35th anniversary of the popular Federal Preservation Tax Incentives Program, which has helped in the preservation of historic structures across the U.S. and particularly in Ohio with its wealth of historic buildings. Because of the program’s numerous possible benefits and its important role in fueling economic growth in surrounding communities, property owners and developers should consider utilizing tax credits on applicable building projects.

But before making the leap, it’s helpful to better understand the requirements and limits of the program. Here are 10 key points to consider before you get started: 

1.    Your building needs to be historic.


First, you need the right kind of building. If it is on the National Register, or a contributing factor in a historic district, then you are all set. If it is not, you can get the building placed on the National Register or have the district expanded so as to include your building. In either case, this process will likely take a year. This is known as a Part 1 approval.


2.    Your plans need approval from the state historic preservation office (SHPO).


Some say this may be the biggest disadvantage of using historic tax credits. SHPO needs to approve your plans, both inside and out. This is known as the Part 2 approval.


3.    Your rehabilitation must be substantial.


In order to qualify for the federal historic tax credits, your rehabilitation plan must be substantial – in the eyes of the IRS, this means the rehabilitation costs must exceed your basis in the property.


4.    You typically need a third-party investor.


There are two factors necessitating the need for a third party investor. First, the credit must offset a tax liability. Most individuals do not have a large enough liability, therefore, most of the investors are C-corporations. The second issue is created by the passive activity loss rules. Basically, only a full time real estate professional can use the credits against active income. C-corporations are not subject to the passive activity loss rules.


5.    Historic Boardwalk has impacted how these deals are structured.


In the Historic Boardwalk case, the IRS successfully argued that the tax credit investor was not a real partner and therefore could not be allocated the credits. The IRS said that the investor must have real upside (not just from being allocated the credits) in the economics of the project (i.e., cash flow and appreciation) and real downside (i.e., the developer cannot completely indemnify the investor). The industry is waiting to hear from the IRS who has promised to issue a revenue procedure outlining a safe harbor for these investments.


6.    Your building cannot be transferred for five years.


The Internal Revenue Code provides that the taxes offset by the credits are subject to a pro rata recapture if the property or a controlling interest in the owner is sold in the five-year period after the property has been placed in service. This makes it difficult to condominium-ize a project and investors will want to make sure you have a truly viable project so that they are not faced with the prospect of foreclosure.


7.    Be careful when you work with a nonprofit.


Generally, the IRS does not allow a nonprofit to be involved either as a part owner or as a tenant of the building. Having the nonprofit form a subsidiary that elects to be taxed on its income can solve the issue. The use issue is trickier. Having the nonprofit use less than 50% of the space is the simplest way. If however, the nonprofit used the building before and will use more than 50% afterwards, you will need to contact a tax credit professional.


8.    There are both federal and state historic credits.


The federal credit is equal to 20% of the qualified rehabilitation expense (QRE). Provided you comply with the NPS standards, the credits are available to a project. The state of Ohio also has a historic tax credit program. That credit is equal to 25% of the same QREs but is currently capped at $5 million. The state credit is subject to a very competitive allocation process. There is a scoring sheet where job creation and economic development rank very high. Unlike the federal credit, a portion of the “credit” can be a refund, up to $3 million.


9.    What is included in a QRE?


A QRE is the base on which the credit is calculated. It includes all the hard costs of construction as well as soft costs, including developer fees, construction interest and professional fees. It does not include the acquisition price, enlargements, work outside the building or personal property expenditures.


10. You will need a bridge lender.


This is sometimes the most difficult part. Most of the investor’s equity comes in after construction and after the Part 3 has been obtained. The Part 3 is the final sign off by the SHPO that confirms that the project was completed in accordance with the approved Part 2. A bridge lender has to be comfortable assuming the risk that the project will be completed and the Part 3 will be obtained. Most lenders require either a guaranty from a deep pocket or outside collateral, in addition to a pledge of the capital contribution to be made.


 As previously published In the November 2013 issue of Properties Magazine

Ulmer Berne 13th Annual Commercial Real Estate Deal Maker Forum

The End of the Suburbs – Where the American Dream is Moving. That’s the title of the newest book by Leigh Gallagher, Assistant Managing Editor of FORTUNE Magazine, and the topic of much interest at the 13th Annual Commercial Real Estate Deal Maker Forum held this morning in Cleveland. The event was co-sponsored by Ulmer & Berne LLP, Colliers International and Inside Business Magazine.

Leigh enlightened an audience of over 300 real estate and civic professionals on the dynamic forces leading to a return to urban living. And, of course, an increase in urban core residential occupancy is good not only for the housing industry, but for the retail and other commercial development that it spurs.

But as Leigh stated, “This doesn’t mean the end of the suburbs…just the end of the suburbs as we now know them.” Using a power point presentation of past and present communities across the country, Leigh showed the audience how suburbs are recasting themselves as “urban suburbs” with a “main street” feel, more work-live options and the incorporation of New Urbanism approaches to town planning.

Leigh is a frequent guest on NPR’s Marketplace as well as MSNBC’s Morning Joe and other national media outlets.

The End of the Suburbs is a great read with just the right amount of statistical support mixed in with anecdotal evidence to provide a convincing view of where this country is moving with its housing options. Those in attendance received a free copy of the book. We eagerly look forward to Leigh Gallagher’s next effort.

Parking as a Scarce Resource

In the 2011 book The High Cost of Free Parking Professor Donald Shoup thoughfully walks the reader through the history of parking in the United States into the present situation in which we find ourselves.  Everyone wants a free parking space; but as Professor Shoup explains, there is no such thing as a 'free" parking space.  Parking is a resource which should be treated like any commodity and priced accordingly.

The concept of "dynamic" pricing (ala airline seats and hotel rooms) should be applied to street and off street parking according to Professor Shoup.  He calls this "performance" parking.  He argues that street parking should be high enough to keep one or two curb spaces open during most times.  This will prevent the circling the block syndrome and create efficiencies.  San Francisco has adopted such a model in their SF Park program.  Take a look at their website for details. 

If parking costs rise and become an efficient economic model as opposed to a subsidized one less time will be spent looking for parking and ridership of public transportation will increase, thereby creating better economic benefits for that public resource. 

Professor Shoup advocates for the removal of parking requirements in our new development zoning codes and return meter revenue to the neighborhoods which generate the same.

According to Collier's International 2012 Parking Rate Survey  (a copy of  which can be downloaded by clicking on the link) identifies Cincinnati's parking costs as relatively low as compared to other major metropolitan areas. 

A concertive effort must ne made by city governments, transportation officials and developers to reverse to expectations and effects of "free" parking.

Small Really is the New BIG !

Small fuel effiecient cars are nothing new.  In fact many of the major car manufacturers are now offering a variety of options which achieve 40+ miles per gallon.  However, what we have not seen until now is a highly fuel efficient car which is highly affordable.  Introducing the Elio to be produced in Louisiana by Elio Motors.  This 3 wheel car is expected to achieve 84 miles per gallon and cost under $7,000.  Given the price point and the convincing argument that small cars make great commuters how can the Real Estate Industry encourage the development and use of this segment of transportation ?

Both cities and private parking owners and operators need to reconsider the structures, pricing and parking options for smaller more fuel effiecient transportation vehicles.  Either lower the price for these less-impacting vehicles or raise the price of bigger heavier vehicles to park.  Just like the gasoline tax is essentially a user fee, parking rates can be structured to encourage good behavior and support of lighter, smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles.  Parking operators should partner with vehicle manufacturers and municipalities to make such vehicles more common.  What a great way to cross market !!

A Day In The Life of Chicago

Thank you Eric Hines for producing Cityscape Chicago.  A time lapse video made from individual photographs taken between July and October, 2012 from around Chicago.

Cityscape Chicago from Eric Hines on Vimeo.

Cincinnati Central Business District

There has been much written of late about how Central Business Districts (CBDs) are the key to regional economic health, growth and sustainability.   We have written in the past about new urbanism concepts and concerns such as walkability and density. We have also written about the benefits of practical public transportation.   As I walk through the Cincinnati CBD I cannot help but notice that there is a gap in the use/tenant mix: the areas’ most high profile universities do not have a presence in the CBD. 

Let’s examine the example Chicago presents. In the Chicago CBD there is Northwestern University School of Law, University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, DePaul University, DePaul University School of Law, Loyola University School of Law, John Marshall School of Law, Roosevelt University, Columbia College, School of the Art Institute, Harold Washington College, Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies and Rush Medical College.  I am sure that I have missed a few, but the list is impressive regardless.


What is the benefit of having institutions of higher learning located in the CBD ? An influx of students, professors, administrators and all of the commercial activity they bring each day all year long. They create a need for housing, food and dining services and transportation services.

Institutions of higher learning and their students and staff being located in the CBD are within easy access of the businesses and professional service firms which draw upon their talent pool.  


So, Cincinnati, why not here ??? 


Why not relocate the University of Cincinnati School of Law and Graduate School of Business in the Cincinnati CBD ? Why not relocate the Xavier University School of Business in the CBD ? Why not relocate The Chase School of Law in the CBD ?  


The major regional corporations are in the CBD; the majority of the regions law firms are in the CBD. Having easy access to students eager and willing to work full and part time, intern and  perform case studies could only create more collaboration for both the respective universities and the region’s businesses; while at the same time opening up valuable space in land locked campuses for other uses. 


Holes in the CBD would quickly fill up with the needed office buildings and housing projects; not to mention the food and dining needs. One project will create the need for another and create a 24/7 community which is vibrant and complimentary to the successful effort which is transforming Over the Rhine, the Banks, Pendleton and other near in neighborhoods.


With the coming of a street car system the ease of moving about the CBD, and eventually connecting to the Clifton area, can only help the CBD become an ideal location for universities.


Cincinnati, think outside your own borders; come together as an integrated community where the institutions of higher learning affect more areas than their traditional campuses and put their talent pool in front of the businesses which are the likely employers for many of the students enrolled in your programs. 

Put That Unproductive Space to Use !

Take a look at how the Korean's are putting previously unproductive space to use and combining internet sales with brick and mortar real estate.  Good idea huh !

"Pocket Neighborhoods": A Concept Worth Consideration

Architect Ross Chapin, who has spent his career championing the "pocket neighborhood" concept has proven that "walkability" and "new urbanism" concepts which are successful in the Northwestcan be successful in the Midwest. TheInglenook community development in Carmel, Indiana is proof that "pocket neighborhoods" can be successful anywhere. We particularly like the concept for in-fill parcels and in first and second ring suburbs.  To learn more about the concept see the links above and the video below.


New Word: "De-Malling"

In the late 1960's and 1970's the retail industry clustered under a common roof in controlled 72 degree conditions.  As consumer tastes changed and populations shifts, the "life-style" center became the next new thing.  The problem being addressed today is what do we do with all of the covered malls around the country ?  One mall under going a "de-malling" is Randhurst Mall in Mount Prospect, Illinois by Casto Lifestyle Properties once the largest covered malls in the country. Follow this link to view the video of the redesign rendering.  The locations of older covered malls are prime today as many were originally built at the fringes of city limits or around close in suburbs; over the years new suburbs developed and completely surrounded these retail centers.  As developers and municipalities consider what to do with their tired covered malls mixed use opportunities abound.  



Value of Walkability

According to a walkable neighborhood has:

1)  A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a center, whether it's a main street or a public space.

2)  People:  Enough people for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently

3)  Mixed income, mixed use:  Affordable housing located near businesses.

4)  Parks and public space:  Plenty of public places to gather and play.

5)  Pedestrian design:  Buildings are close to the street, parking lots relegated to the back.

6)  Schools and workplaces:  Close enough that most residents can walk from their homes.

7)  Complete streets:  Streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit.

As we wrote previously in our post titled "Trends We Are Watching", car dependency costs dearly and households which eliminate one car can increase their mortgage carry capacity by approximately $100,000. In order to shed a car in a typical two car family, public transportation options must be practical and convenient. Walkable neighborhoods have more density than typical suburbs and are usually closer to the urban core of a city or region. Cottage homes and neighborhoods which are built on in fill sites in mature neighborhoods can bring residents into or retain existing residents as they transition between phases of their lives. Businesses locate where their customers are located. 


Check out to see what your project's walk score. 

Trends We Are Watching

  • The residential housing market is stalling; and perhaps non-existent for homes priced in the top third of the market;
  • Public funds for roadway expansions are going to become harder to come by;
  • There is and will continue to be an over supply of low density fringe suburban homes (exurban);
  • Baby Boomers and their children are showing a desire to downsize and live in walkable closer in communities with mass transit options, with no let up in sight at least through 2025; 

The Brookings Institute published a well reasoned article recently entitled The Next Real Estate Boom.  The authors raise the above and several other facts which lead them to the conclusion that inner ring communities and suburbs will see a quicker stabilization of real estate prices and development, long before the exurban areas of our metropolitan markets.  

So, how can developers and real estate professionals respond to these trends ?  

  • Advocate for more and better public transportation options;
  • Find ways to promote alternative energy and power options (charging stations);
  • Enhance walkable communities through intelligent residential and commercial development.

One statistic mentioned by the authors is that when a household eliminates a car from its budget the household can afford an additional $100,000 in mortgage expenses.  This statistic alone should be enough to motivate governmental bodies to create incentives for taking advantage of these trends.  According to the authors, transportation policies drive development activity.  


So You Think Tax Credits Are Boring ?

If we want a healthier community we need to start with a healthy core city.    I am a social worker, turned tax attorney, turned real estate deal maker. I tell you this because those phases of my life have all brought me to this point in my career.   You know the theory about the donut. If there is a hole in the middle surrounded by wealthy suburbs, eventually the suburbs will crumble. Besides, urban areas are rich in character, more ethnically diverse and in general are more interesting places to hang out. Given the choice many people would prefer to live work and play in an urban landscape.

Tax credits, whether they be historic, low income or new market fuel urban development deals. Without these tax incentives restoring old buildings in the urban core makes little economic sense. The costs to rehabilitate are more then the fair market value of the buildings upon completion considering the low rents and sales price per square foot. Especially in these economic times when every bank is looking for a reason not to lend money, tax credits are even more important. Yes, tax credit deals take more time, are more complicated and result in higher professional fees. However you can raise almost 50% of the project cost in tax credit equity/ subordinate debt through tax credit programs.


Just recently I read an article in the Sandusky Register Online about the Ohio Preservation Tax Credit and the resultant loss of a deal in the Sandusky area because the program makes it difficult for it to be used with the New Market Tax Credits program. While the article oversimplified the problem, the problem still exists and I and other professionals are having a hard time convincing the Ohio Department of Development and the Ohio Department of Taxation that it needs to be fixed. Basically the program requires the credit to be allocated in proportion to a member’s ownership interest. In other words it does not allow the credit to be “specially allocated” to a member. This is important because urban development deals usually involve federal historic tax credits, state historic tax credit and either low income housing tax credits or new market tax credits. Different tax investors have different appetites depending on their presence in Ohio and their tax liabilities. If the credits could be specially allocated then investors would pay more for them rather then trying to find one investor for all credits.