The Tampa Bay commercial real estate market is no longer in the basement but remains far from the penthouse.
A bright spot in a national report released this week shows the commercial sector has improved in the bay area and other parts of Florida amid the languishing economy and lackluster job growth.
The report ranked the bay area as the 33rd best of 51 metro areas for investment in commercial real estate. Overall, the bay area improved to fair this year from poor last year, according to the "Emerging Trends in Real Estate" report by the nonprofit Urban Land Institute and accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
"It shows we're moving in the right direction," said Ray Sandelli, head of the Tampa office of the CB Richard Ellis commercial real estate firm. "It will also challenge us to improve."
Experts attribute the improvement locally to the commercial market not being overbuilt during the boom, and real estate prices correcting downward to match today's market.
Statewide, Miami ranked 17th and recorded the biggest gains among major markets for investment opportunities. Foreign cash is flowing into the city because of political instability in Latin America, the report said. Orlando ranked 29th; Jacksonville ranked 40th. Detroit, Cleveland and Las Vegas were at the bottom.
Apartments are the safest place to park cash here and across the country, the report said. Nationally, brokers and investors of industrial properties, shopping centers, hotels and office buildings face a "slowing, grind-it-out recovery" in 2012.
Investment cash is gushing toward the 24-hour global gateways: Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York City, Boston and Seattle. Money is also following young professionals to pedestrian-friendly cities such as Portland, Ore., Seattle and Austin, Texas.
Not all experts buy into the report.
Larry Richey, senior managing director of Cushman & Wakefield in Tampa, said the bay area is doing better and will never be near the top when compared to big metro areas on the East Coast and West Coast. But it would rank high among similarly sized metro areas.
Vacancy rates have dropped in office and industrial buildings as companies move to bigger offices or relocate from outside the region, he said. He pointed to Time Warner's recent pledge to create 500 jobs in Hillsborough County and to spend $5 million on new facilities over the next five years.
The report, Richey said, doesn't reflect all the gains made in 2011.
"It's the most improvement we've seen in the last five years," he said.