It’s not just Manhattan’s residential market that is feeling the effects of a supply glut and greater economic uncertainty, according to Boston Properties.
The city’s office market has also “been impacted by growing supply,” while economic “volatility” has hampered demand from smaller financial services tenants, the real estate investment trust said on its first-quarter earnings call Wednesday.
While describing New York as a fundamentally “good market,” Boston Properties president Doug Linde said the company has seen earlier expectations that “there was going to be a supply issue” in the Manhattan office market come to fruition.
New office construction, in particular, is a key driver behind “good, not great leasing activity across the city,” Linde said, while also citing how a “roller coaster” of a first quarter in the debt and equity markets had impacted “[leasing] velocity at the top end” of the market.
Linde noted that there were five “relocation transactions written at starting rents over $100 per square foot” in the New York City office market in the first quarter, including hedge fund Citadel’s widely reported 200,000-square-foot lease at L&L Holding’s 425 Park Avenue.
But excluding the Citadel deal, the four remaining leases signed at over $100 per square foot were for roughly 10,000 square feet of space on average, Linde said.
“While we continue to see a constant and steady volume of leasing at between $80 to $100 per square foot, velocity above $100 per square foot has slowed,” he added.
Keeping such trends in mind, Linde said the Boston-based REIT would “take a very similar approach” to two floors at the GM Building, at 767 Fifth Avenue in Midtown, will be vacated come July, with the office landlord open to “subdividing them for smaller customers as required.”
Boston Properties has yet to sign a tenant for any of the 85,000 square feet terminated by media network Al Jazeera at 250 West 55th Street in February – though Linde said there are “significant conversations underway for the entire second floor” at 38-story Midtown tower, while there are a “number of food operators” interested in the building’s ground-floor retail space, which features an Eighth Avenue frontage.
The REIT is also in lease negotiations with “two existing tenants” at 399 Park Avenue for around 175,000 square feet at the Midtown office tower to be vacated by former anchor tenant Citigroup, which recently moved its headquarters to 388-390 Greenwich Street in Tribeca.
Speaking on greater market conditions, Boston Properties CEO Owen Thomas said “prices remain strong for prime assets in gateway markets” – citing Saudi conglomerate Olayan Group’s recent acquisition of the former Sony Building at 550 Madison Avenue as an example of continuing interest in the commercial real estate market from “non-U.S. investors.”
Thomas added that despite “a hint of a slowdown” in the U.S. economy, the “financial markets have improved materially from their lows in mid-February” and noted positive indicators like a “fairly healthy” job market, rising commodities prices and narrowing credit spreads.
Boston Properties’ contentious plans for the former Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s former headquarters at 343 Madison Avenue are also on track, Thomas said — with the REIT set to acquire a 99-year ground lease on the property “subject to a number of local approvals,” such as the city’s ULURP process.
The REIT hopes to build a new 900,000-square-foot skyscraper on the site, located near Grand Central Terminal, and Thomas said that development is “likely several years out” but that the company has “commenced our predevelopment work” on the property.