The Evolution of Retail Ownership

By John Meador, Associate Broker, The Boulos Company

The consumer retail sector continues to strategize around how to reposition physical stores to offset the growing demand of online shoppers. Many experts suggest that retailers have figured it out—companies understand the necessary steps to create a profitable retail experience. This strategy, however, could just be delaying the inevitable. Pop up shops and smaller stores may present a way to merely stay afloat until technology makes physical retail—other than dining and entertainment—entirely obsolete.

The industrial sector has been the widely-reported beneficiary of retail’s supposed demise.  Conventional industrial, consisting of loading docks and ample clear height, has become one of the hottest institutional investments of this real estate cycle.  Moreover, as yields have continued to compress for well-located industrial, operators have had success creating scale within the product type by way of small to mid-size transactions. These operators are being handsomely rewarded for their efforts through portfolio exits to buyers with a longer-term investment horizon and a lower cost of capital. Industrial’s popularity has created a new vernacular: “E-commerce,” “Clicks and Bricks,” “BOPIS,” “The Amazon Effect” and more. The historical separation of retail and industrial has created a conversation predicated on one of them winning and one losing. Since the interdependence of retail and industrial is more obvious than ever, why does industrial exist as a separate product type at all?

Across the country, the exploration of physical retail and/or mall conversions into industrial has become fairly commonplace; however, only a handful of owners have decided to spend the capital to execute this strategy. Some of the reported difficulties around converting retail shopping centers into industrial include:

  1. High-quality retail assets have historically garnered higher triple net rents and valuations than industrial product.A combination of improved leasing fundamentals and cap rate compression within urban areas and high quality suburban industrial, will soon make this point moot.
  2. Zoning typically prohibits industrial use within retail-oriented areas.While this is true today, an increase in big box retail conversions into quasi distribution centers will pressure many municipalities to rethink either the use definition or the underlying zoning entirely.
  3. Municipalities tend to gain more tax revenue from retail uses (additional layer in sales tax) than industrial.However, E-commerce sales projections ($1 trillion+ by 2025) will make this argument less relevant over the coming decade.

Will there be a tipping point where the real estate community merges conventional definitions of industrial and retail into one product type?  Will it only happen once downtown retail storefronts and/or full buildings finally evolve into true “last-mile” drone delivery warehouses?  Only time will tell, but the changing market suggests this merger is at least justifiable.  If current retail owners have the confidence and capital to weather the storm of an evolving market, they could profit considerably from owning the best “industrial” locations all along.

Originally published on May 30, 2019,


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Longtime Board Members to Retire from Real Estate Organization

Two Maine Real Estate & Development Association Board Members Set to Retire after 16 Years of Service

Peter Merrill, Deputy Director of MaineHousing will retire from the Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s (MEREDA’s) Board of Directors at the end of the month after 16 years of service.  MEREDA recognized Peter in 2018 with its Robert B. Patterson, Jr. Founders’ Award, which honors members of MEREDA who have distinguished themselves by making significant contributions to the real estate industry and/or to MEREDA over many years. In addition to serving on the board, Peter has served on MEREDA’s public policy committee for more than a decade, where his tremendous insight into of the workings of the legislature has provided MEREDA with invaluable counsel in its legislative endeavors.

Dana Totman, President and CEO of Avesta Housing also served as a contributing member of MEREDA’s Board of Directors for the past 16 years, and will also retire at the end of June. Dana served on MEREDA’s Executive Committee as a Vice President from 2007 – 2010 and was also recognized with MEREDA’s Robert B. Patterson, Jr. Founders’ Award in 2013 for his contributions to the real estate industry and to MEREDA.  Dana’s immense knowledge and expertise in real estate has significantly benefited MEREDA and its mission.

“It has been a pleasure working with Peter and Dana for the last 16 years.  We are grateful to both for their dedication and service,” stated Shelly R. Clark, MEREDA Vice President of Operations, “The organization would not be the strong voice in our industry that it is today without the efforts of these two individuals.”

For further information, please contact MEREDA’s Vice President of Operations, Shelly R. Clark at 207-874-0801.

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The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on Riverview Terrace Apartments

In multi-part series, exclusive to the Maine Real Estate Insider, we’ll provide an up-close look at the most notable commercial development projects of the past year that are helping to fuel Maine’s economy in terms of investment and job creation.  MEREDA is proud to recognize responsible development based upon criteria including environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, difficulty of the development, uniqueness, social impact and job creation.

Please join with us in celebrating Riverview Terrace Apartments in Westbrook.

MEREDA:  Describe the building and project.

Riverview Terrace Apartments:  Riverview Terrace is an 83-unit, scattered-site, senior affordable housing development in Westbrook, Maine.  Building 1, at 21 Knight Street, features 58 apartments and was built circa 1973. Building 2, at 10 Liza Harmon Drive, features 25 apartments and was built circa 1983.

Originally developed as Public Housing, Riverview Terrace has been proudly operated for over 40 years by the Westbrook Housing Authority. However, following years of Federal budget cuts to public housing, Riverview Terrace faced mounting capital needs in a time of dwindling capital and operating assistance.

In 2015, Westbrook Housing partnered with Anew Development to pilot the HUD Rental Assistance Demonstration Program (RAD), which allows public housing to be privatized in the interest of preserving and enhancing affordable housing. The developers navigated RAD and pursued new capital investments. In 2018, the property underwent a nearly $7MM rehabilitation; bringing it into the 21st century by providing energy and life/safety improvements and general modernization.

Riverview Terrace was the first public housing property in Maine to be transitioned through the HUD RAD program and the developers’ successful navigation of this complex Federal program has provided a leading model for other public housing authorities across the state.

Renovations at Riverview Terrace provided numerous energy efficiency improvements from enhanced insulation and air-sealing to new windows and doors. These physical efficiency measures compound with the inherent transportation energy efficiencies that Riverview Terrace has always provided by virtue of its smart growth location in the heart of a major Westbrook/Portland service center area served by sidewalks and high frequency public bus service.

MEREDA:  What was the impetus for this project? 

Riverview Terrace Apartments:  Affordable housing properties like Riverview Terrace provide precious housing assistance to area seniors in need. Regrettably, following years of Federal budget cuts to public housing, Riverview Terrace faced mounting capital needs in a time of dwindling capital and operating assistance. It was very clear to Westbrook Housing that something had to be done to address the mounting physical and financial needs of the project to preserve it for future generations.

The release of the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program (RAD) by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided a unique opportunity to reimagine and rebuild Riverview Terrace and allow it to start anew.

MEREDA:  That sounds like quite a process.  How long were you in the planning stages before construction started?

Riverview Terrace Apartments:  The HUD RAD public housing conversion program was approved by Congress in 2012 but it took until 2013 before project funding and guidelines for public housing became clear. In December of 2013, Westbrook Housing submitted Riverview Terrace to HUD among the earliest, first wave of public housing RAD conversion applications.

The early years of the RAD program were marked by very limited resources and still evolving administrative policies making the application process, at times, feel like a bold and uncertain move into uncharted territory. Indeed, the Riverview Terrace application was not immediately approved and spent the whole of 2014 on a waiting list awaiting the outcome of Congressional budget decisions.

In 2015, responding to very strong and mounting demand for the program nationally, Congress appropriated significant new resources to the program and Riverview Terrace was finally able to come off of the waiting list and receive its preliminary RAD approval.

That same year, the developers began working in earnest to secure a wide and diverse range of new sources of funding for the property such as low-income housing tax credits, private equity grants and low-interest housing loans, and tax increment financing. This process took the better part of two years to fully navigate but in 2017 the developers did secure the nearly $7MM in funds that would be needed to fully rehabilitate the property.

2018 saw the rehabilitation / construction process implemented. Managing a comprehensive renovation in a nearly fully occupied property presented challenges and required the rehabilitation work to be conducted in multiple phases with residents being temporarily accommodated elsewhere in their building while the renovation of their apartment was in progress.

All told, the developers invested over five years of effort to bring the RAD conversion and rehabilitation of Riverview Terrace from concept to completion.

MEREDA:  Tell us about the most challenging aspect of getting this project completed.

Riverview Terrace Apartments:  First it was the uncertainty of the newly minted and somewhat complex HUD RAD program; would we be approved? would there be funding available? Next there was the challenge of raising nearly $7MM in redevelopment capital from eight distinct sources. Finally, performing a deep and comprehensive renovation on a nearly fully occupied building.

MEREDA:  Something unexpected you learned along the way was….

Riverview Terrace Apartments:  Summitting mountain as large as this meant getting knocked down many times along the way. By maintaining our resolve and banding close with our strategic partners, we were able to repeatedly dust off our pants and keep hiking to the top. We all learned the importance of resisting doubt and discouragement, maintaining the vision, and persevering to the end.

MEREDA:  Now that it’s complete, what feature of the project do you think makes it the most notable? 

Riverview Terrace was the first public housing property in Maine to be transitioned through the HUD RAD program and the developers’ successful navigation of this complex Federal program. We have provided a leading model for other public housing authorities across the state.

Thanks to the combined efforts of the entire Riverview Terrace team, these 83 units of quality senior housing have been renewed and repositioned to serve scores of future Westbrook area seniors for generations to come in an environment that supports them not just with financial security but with independence, comfort, safety, social connectivity, and health and well-being.

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Environmental Liability of Former Dry Cleaner Properties

By Keith Taylor, C.G., P.G. – Technical Lead & Senior Environmental Geologist at St.Germain Collins

Modern dry cleaning operations today follow strict rules to ensure that the common dry cleaning chemical tetrachloroethene (PCE) is properly managed and disposed of.  However, from the 1930s when PCE was first used until the early 1980s, the environmental risks of PCE were not known and essentially had no regulatory requirements for handling and disposal.

Similar to the emerging contaminant PFAS, which has been in the news, PCE is resistant to degradation. Releases of PCE from decades ago remain  an environmental liability in many urban locations.

PCE also is highly volatile and its vapors can be generated from contaminated soil or groundwater and migrate away from the source.   In fact, the most common risk is for PCE  vapor migration into buildings via cracks in the floor or gaps between the foundation and floor.

So how do you proceed with developing a property that was either formerly a dry cleaner or potentially adjacent to a former a dry cleaner?

Environmental due diligence is a great first step, as it typically includes a review of the history of the subject property as well as abutting properties.  Identifying former dry cleaners most often occurs through the review of historical data sources such as Sanborn Fire Insurance maps and city directories. The 1957 Sanborn map pictured at right identifies a dry cleaner in Lewiston with a solvent tank in the basement.   PCE contamination was in fact found in soil vapor on the abutting property in 2018.

Another site in Westbrook was occupied by a dry cleaner until the 1960s when the building was demolished as part of urban renewal.  A new building was constructed on the property in the 1970s, yet PCE was still detected beneath its basement floor nearly forty years later.

More problematic is when a former dry cleaner is not identified before the property is redeveloped. 

A recent example occurred in Auburn, Maine where a 15-unit apartment complex was constructed in 1987 at the site of a former dry cleaner that operated from 1950 to 1986.  It wasn’t until 2013 that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (Maine DEP) sampled the soil vapor and indoor air and found high levels of PCE.  The apartment building owner had nothing to do with the former dry cleaner, yet they will likely be responsible for investigation and remediation costs.

After reading these examples, anyone involved in real estate may reasonably conclude that former dry cleaner sites are to be avoided at all costs.

However, there are both technical and regulatory options that can eliminate the risk to human health and significantly reduce future liability. 

First, PCE was described earlier as being very volatile.  While this attribute can cause vapor migration into buildings, it also makes the removal of PCE beneath buildings relatively simple.

There are two approaches to removing PCE vapors from beneath existing buildings:

  • installing a simple venting system similar to those used for residential radon removal; these systems require continuous operation for the lifespan of the building; or
  • installing a soil vapor extraction system that more aggressively vents the sub-slab soil such that PCE levels permanently decline at which time the system can be turned off.

Both approaches are relatively inexpensive and have been employed for decades across the country.  Periodic indoor air sampling is required during  operation of either system.

For new buildings, a sub-slab vapor barrier can be installed during construction to prevent migration from below into the buildings.

With respect to environmental liability, the Maine DEP is very familiar with PCE-contaminated dry cleaner sites and the sub-slab venting systems.   Under their Voluntary Response Action Program (VRAP), the Maine DEP can provide legally-based liability protections if the extent of the PCE contamination is adequately characterized and if an approved remediation system is installed.

Also keep in mind that PCE vapor beneath the floor does not necessarily mean vapor intrusion into the building is going to occur.  Low levels of PCE or a “tight” floor and foundation can limit migration into a building such that a human health risk does not exist.   In this situation, the Maine DEP VRAP would want solid documentation of this condition and commonly require that any new buildings be constructed with a vapor barrier.

Whatever the scenario, former dry cleaner sites can be redeveloped with no risk to human health and limited liability if the appropriate due diligence is completed.

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MEREDA’s 7th Annual “Strikes for Scholars” Bowl-a-Thon Fundraiser on May 23rd Raises Funds for Scholarships for 16 Maine Students

Again this year, MEREDA is excited to be able to provide $20,000 in scholarships to students pursuing studies in building trades, architecture, construction, engineering or a business program at a Maine Community College (MCCS), or the College of Science, Technology & Health at the University of Southern Maine.  MEREDA began its scholarship program for students in the building trades and professions 7 years ago and has continued to grow and support the program.

“MEREDA is a strong supporter of trades and professions associated with real estate and the real estate development industry in Maine, and recognizes how important these professions, that provide good jobs and careers, have been to our state, the economy and the real estate industry.   The building trades and professions provide high paying lifelong opportunities for our residents,” said Gary Vogel of Drummond Woodsum and MEREDA president. “An educated workforce is vital to support economic development. We are pleased to help these deserving students achieve their goals and our members look forward to the contributions they will make to our industry, our state and our economy.”

Since the fundraiser’s inception, MEREDA is proud to have raised and donated over $107,000 in scholar­ships helping 78 Maine students by making it a little easier for them to achieve their goal of obtaining a college credential.

Many thanks to our generous sponsors AAA Energy Service Co., Zachau Construction, Verrill Dana, and Mainebiz, as well as our bowling teams for supporting this worthwhile cause.  Without their involvement, these substantial donations would not be possible

Check out more photos from the event on our Facebook page!

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Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA) Announces Josh Fifield as Vice President

The Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA) is pleased to announce that Portland resident, Josh Fifield, a Senior Account Executive in the Business Insurance Department of Clark Insurance has been elected vice president.

Josh has been participating on the MEREDA Board since May 2017 and currently co-chairs its Membership & Marketing Committee, in which he has been involved since 2014.

In 2017, Josh was recognized as one of two Volunteers of the Year.  An involved community member, he is also a board member for Portland Little League and Vice Chair for Town & Country Federal Credit Union.

At Clark Insurance, a 100% Employee Owned Insurance Agency headquartered in Portland, Maine, Josh is responsible for the continued and successful growth of Clark Insurance by providing its customers with comprehensive business insurance and services. His focus is on the unique needs of Maine’s property developers and business owners. With over 115 employees, Clark Insurance offers a variety of services including Personal Insurance, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits, safety & risk consulting, and exceptional customer service.  Josh has over 15-years of experience in the insurance industry and started as an Underwriter with MEMIC.

“We are excited to have Josh participate in this new leadership role as Vice President”, says Shelly R. Clark, Vice President of Operations for MEREDA.   “His dedication, commitment, and passion for MEREDA’s mission is simply undeniable.”

For further information, please contact MEREDA’s Vice President of Operations, Shelly R. Clark at 207-874-0801 or visit

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MEREDA Brings Together Industry Leaders to Collaborate and Innovate on Housing

On Tuesday, May 7, some 300 members of Maine’s real estate industry gathered in Portland for the Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s (MEREDA’s) 2019 Spring Conference on the future of housing in Maine.  With housing at a critical juncture in Maine, MEREDA and its members are committed to finding ways to respond to existing challenges and support responsible development for the future.

“MEREDA and its members want to be part of the solution, which is why we put this important conference together,” says Gary Vogel, MEREDA President. Vogel gave introductory remarks at the conference which brought together industry leaders to collaborate and innovate on finding solutions for the housing challenges Maine faces.

The conference included a keynote presentation by Dr. Lynn Fisher of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. Dr. Fisher provided both national and state economic data, painting a bigger picture of the housing situation.  Reflecting on the nearly 10-year economic recovery in our country, Fisher says, “Economic expansion does not die of old age,” but noted it is important to recognize that this is a mature cycle.  Fisher’s presentation included a discussion of finding ways to produce more housing at a lower price point and seeking out inventive policies to address the myriad of issues inherent to housing in Maine.

Martin Ditto of Ditto Residential in Washington, D.C. also provided a keynote and spoke about his mission to build cohousing communities as one possible solution to the housing crisis.  He urged real estate developers to think beyond merely building houses, but to help create communities where people can connect with one another.

The event also included a panel discussion with local experts Dan Brennan of MaineHousing, Matt O’Malia of GO Logic, and Hannah Pingree the Director of the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management, as well as questions from the audience.  Dan Brennan laid out the needs of Maine: “Maine needs 20,000 more affordable homes in the state.  Our most recent production has been around 300 units per year.  Our goal is to get to 1000.” On building affordable housing he continued, “We know how to do it, we’re just not doing enough of it.”

Looking to the future, Matt O’Malia and Hannah Pingree spoke on the need for more efficient homes.  O’Malia, an architect by training, has developed a sustainable insulation product made from wood fiber which will be produced in Maine and provide jobs for Mainers.  Making homes more efficient and better insulated is a goal of Governor Mills’ administration, and Pingree spoke about the challenge of keeping people in their homes and able to afford to heat them.

With the advent of tiny homes and 3-D printed homes, the panel acknowledged the need for more innovative approaches to housing. Whether or not people will want these types of homes remains a question, but thinking outside the box on how to produce affordable housing needs to be part of the conversation.  As Fisher pointed out earlier in the conference, innovation also needs to be applied to the policy side of things.  Having a few brave mayors and town councils try out different zoning policies could have a big impact on how communities can answer the need for housing.

At the end of the day, the conference showed that there are no easy answers to the housing problem in Maine, but getting the right people together in the room to discuss ideas and solutions is where we need to start. “We look forward to continuing this conversation with developers, governmental officials, lenders, brokers and homebuyers to work on turning the ideas from the conference into practice and working on additional solutions to the housing issues faced by Mainers,” said Vogel.

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Maine Real Estate & Development Association Awards Top 6 Notable Projects of 2018

Projects from Portland to Boothbay Harbor to Augusta received special recognition at MEREDA’s 2019 annual Spring Conference in Portland on May 7th.

The exemplary projects from across the state, completed in 2018, not only embody MEREDA’s belief in responsible real estate development, but also exemplify best practices in the industry, contributing to Maine’s economic growth by significant investment of resources and job creation statewide.

Each of the six projects was selected in part based upon criteria including: noteworthy and significant project completed* in 2018 (*Building Occupancy Permit must be issued by 12 31 18.), environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, social impact, uniqueness, difficulty of development and job creation.

The recipients of MEREDA’s Top 6 Most Notable Projects of 2018 include:

  • Westbrook Housing, Westbrook Development Corporation, and Anew Development’s Riverview Terrace in Westbrook
  • Dirigo Capital Advisors’ Ballard Center in Augusta
  • Paul G. Coulombe’s Boothbay Harbor Country Club in Boothbay Harbor
  • Colby College’s Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons in Waterville
  • Developers Collaborative & Sea Coast Management’s The Motherhouse in Portland
  • Bateman Partners’ Topsham Care Center in Topsham










For more information on these impressive projects, please click here.

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Spring 2019 MEREDA Index Commentary – THE CONSTRUCTION COMPONENT – Richard Brescia, Cianbro

Richard Brescia, Vice President of Cianbro recently provided insight for the Spring 2019 Edition of the MEREDA Index by sharing his perspective on the Construction Sector over the last 6 months. 

“In late 2018 and early 2019, Cianbro continued to see strong construction demand, including increased interest and investment from sources outside of Maine. What’s more, the demand wasn’t
concentrated in our largest metropolitan markets, but stretched statewide, putting added pressure on construction resources and – subsequently – costs.

The building market was extremely active, especially in corporate office, senior living, and
institutional markets, including healthcare, higher education, government, and life sciences. While we feel these markets will continue their momentum in the coming months and years, private development may be tempered by rising costs, particularly for labor and materials.

The driving forces behind increased construction costs can be attributed to a number of factors:

• Supply & Demand – Contractors and subcontractors are extremely busy. That means there are fewer bidders for any given project, which in turn means pricing is likely to be less competitive. Construction materials are also in high demand, affecting both pricing and availability.

• Skilled Labor Shortage – As older craft workers retire, there are far fewer young people
entering the trades to replace them. To help remedy the situation for us and our clients, we
created the Cianbro Institute where we educate our employees in a variety of trades, from
rigging and welding, to carpentry and electrical. Hopefully we’ve started a trend.

• World Economy Uncertainty – Tenuous international trade agreements and commodity tariffs have led to some significant cost spikes in widely used construction materials such as steel and aluminum. That means items including I-beams, rebar, window casings, ductwork and exterior metal panels are now more expensive.

Considering that budgets for today’s construction projects may have been developed a year or two years ago, the cost increases are sobering for owners. Looking ahead, Cianbro believes contractors can mitigate this by employing creative solutions such as lean construction principles and a colaborative construction management (CM) delivery approach.

The CM model is based on the owner and design and construction firms working together as a team from the conceptual stage through project completion. Most notably, it involves an iterative design and budgeting process that enables the project team to monitor real-time pricing at each design stage and, when necessary, make changes to materials, program or scope to attain the desired guaranteed maximum price (GMP) quoted by the constructor.

Add to that lean construction principles utilized by the CM and subcontractors, such as just-in-time material deliveries, modular components, advanced technology, smart construction practices and proper sequencing, and you have a recipe for optimal efficiency that will keep projects on schedule and within budget. In today’s robust construction market, these will likely be the keys to success for savvy owners and astute contractors in Maine.

Click here to download the full report.  For more information and a video on the MEREDA Index, please click here.

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Spring 2019 MEREDA Index Commentary – THE COMMERCIAL COMPONENT – Joseph Porta, Porta & Co.

Joseph Porta, SIOR, Broker/Manager of Porta & Co. recently provided insight for the Spring 2019 Edition of the MEREDA Index by sharing his perspective on the Commercial Sector over the last 6 months. 

With Q1 of 2019 behind us, and an active second quarter approaching, it’s a perfect time to reflect on southern Maine’s capital real estate markets. I am frequently asked; in a market where pricing is higher than it has been in over a decade how does anyone acquire investment real estate without over paying? In short,
very carefully, but more specifically, by sticking to fundamentals with an increased focus on creating value between Net Operating Income (NOI) and after-tax cash flow. Investors are managing risk by prioritizingvalue over short-term cash flow.

Limiting risk is about managing a position’s exposure to a worst-case outcome. To effectively do that late in a business cycle requires a readiness to reinvest capital, a willingness to rely on appreciation, and the patience to realize returns over longer periods of time (5-10+ years). For example, this could mean acquiring an empty building and repositioning it for a higher and better use as we’ve seen with recent redevelopments
in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, or purchasing an asset based on its future ability to generate a higher rent as we’ve observed in Monument Square. The common denominator in both situations is an under performance of some kind where an asset’s value is not exclusively derived from its existing income.

After 8 years of economic expansion and historically low interest rates, capitalization rates have dipped under 7% for the strongest commercial assets in southern Maine. This has produced soaring valuations with pricing in some instances trading at or above replacement cost. In effect, deal pricing is equally driven by factors relating to the capital stack and financing as it is from the relationship between NOI and price. Professional operators (owners/funds) utilize financing structures where membership equity (investor) is layered onto lower leveraged institutional lending to create a less expensive cost to capital. Opportunity zones have added yet
another wrinkle to the life span of investment capital going into these designated areas. New class A office buildings for Sun Life Financial, WEX and Covetrus have been able to utilize these tax advantages, effectively opening pathways where new construction is a plausible solution.

The underlying driver of this market growth is the sustained expansion of Portland’s downtown and greater metropolitan statistical area (MSA). Entering Q2 and looking forward to Q3, we can expect a continued shift in emphasis onto internal rate of return, and the deployment of investment capital with the patience to utilize time in order to reach underwriting objectives.

Click here to download the full report.  For more information and a video on the MEREDA Index, please click here.

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