Sometime in October every year, there’s an afternoon when you feel the wind blowing colder. It’s not quantifiable but it’s a chill that you know means fall is serious about setting in.
This past week or so, there was a similar chill in the air about the Pittsburgh office market. This time of year is when all of the real estate service firms issue year-end reports and it looks like 2019 was a year when the metrics slipped into more troubling territory. The 2019 reports are hardly bad news. Net absorption was positive, ranging from around 100,000 square feet to almost 300,000 square feet, depending on which report you read. (That’s a matter of when the researcher times the construction and completion, which varies.) Positive absorption in the face of record office construction is a strong signal. Rents grew again. But there were a couple of yellow signals.
Occupancy declined again, this time getting to mid-double digits. There have been some big spaces coming onto the market over the past few years, especiialy in One Oxford and 525 William Penn Place, and some significant sublease spaces. The effect of that has been to create higher vacancy, especially in the Central Business District (CBD).
Grant Street Associates/Cushman & Wakefield has the direct vacancy rate for Class A CBD at 13.9%. Newmark Knight Frank has it at 18.3%. (NKF excludes owner-occupied buildings from the calculation since they aren’t on the market.) JLL puts direct vacancy at 14.6% in the CBD.
The data, along with the national reports like CoStar’s, has made some of the brokers, lenders, and developers nervous. There are still great economic stories coming from Pittsburgh but with flat job growth, you may see a chill in the speculative office market, especially after the next couple of major projects get underway.
Speaking of the next major spec office, Burns & Scalo is bidding packages for the second phase of District 15, now called Vision on Fifteenth, a 275,000 square foot building. Carl Walker Construction is taking bids on a 376-car garage for the project.
In other project news, Al. Neyer will start construction on the 100,000 square foot Astra facility for Krystal Biotech in Findlay Township. The developers of 926 Smallman Street, an 81,000 square foot, 7-story mixed use building, are going through City Planning. Dick Building Co. is the contractor.