Thursday, January 18, 2018
Business

Vacant Valrico office building shows signs of life

VALRICO

Roosters and kids on skateboards have roamed the grounds of the big glass office building on State Road 60 just west of Miller Road the past few years.

But the five-story Angelica Commercial Complex that has sat largely empty and unfinished since it was built in 2009 may soon see tenants.

Angelica Investment Corp. recently filed a notice of commencement signaling the beginning of work to finish construction on the first floor.

The building also has prospective tenants, said Bruce Ovans, vice president for development for property management company National Properties Trust Inc. The first floor is zoned for retail and will also hold administrative offices. The second will hold office suites.

Potential tenants could include those in administrative or medical fields, Ovans said. Build-out of the inside is scheduled to be completed by December, and National Properties Trust plans to move its administrative headquarters into the building by January, he said.

"Everything is moving in the right direction," he said.

Occupancy in the building might satisfy thousands of drivers who have passed by the structure wondering if it would ever come to life. It has sparked curiosity as well as questions about its potential impact on the county tax rolls and surrounding property values.

The property was originally zoned for agricultural use with one home per acre. National Properties Trust sought rezoning in 2005. While the building itself sat idle since the initial construction, it doesn't appear to have created adverse issues for surrounding property owners.

The optimism of Angelica owners reflects the market's overall progress when it comes to commercial properties.

"We wish it was more robust than it is, but it's definitely heading upward, not downward," said Claire Calzon, managing director of officer services for Colliers International, a real estate firm with offices in Tampa.

Last quarter, Tampa Bay's real estate office market vacancy rate was 15.4 percent, up slightly from 15.1 percent the previous quarter, according to a report from Colliers International. In the retail real estate market, the vacancy rate was 9.1 percent, a slight decrease from 9.2 percent the previous quarter.

Vacancies affect the owner first and foremost, and it would be hard to say definitively how they would affect the value of surrounding properties, said Ken Engel, head of commercial valuation for the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser.

"It's possible there could be some sort of effect in general," Engel said, but there have not been any studies done looking at that possibility.

The Angelica Commercial Complex property is currently assessed at $950,921, according to records on the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser website.

Meanwhile, county departments have taken steps in recent years that have helped mitigate the troubles that can come along with empty buildings, like vandalism, theft or a lack of upkeep.

A statute change in the summer of 2012 now restricts selling copper wire that has been burnt to secondhand recyclers. Before the change, vacant commercial buildings were a prime place to steal internal wiring, like that used for refrigeration or air conditioning.

Since the statute change, metal thefts have decreased significantly, said Maj. Clyde Eisenberg of District II with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

"We still have some," Eisenberg said, "but not nearly the volume we used to have."

The county established the property maintenance code in 2009, making property owners responsible for any noncompliance issues with commercial properties. Prior, the health department had jurisdiction but only in cases of unsanitary conditions, said Jim Blinck, operations manager of county code enforcement.

Unlike the savings and loans crisis of the late 1980s, the 2008 recession affected commercial real estate, not just homes, Blinck said.

"This is the first time that we've really had to deal with vacant, foreclosed commercial properties," he said. "So this code enabled us to address public nuisance issues."

Usually complaints on commercial properties are made because of a lack of maintenance, a defect like a leaking roof, or because a tenant has not gotten the property owner to make a repair.

But Blinck said issues with residential properties are more common.

"A small percentage of our resources are directed to dealing with commercial properties," he said.

Calzon from Colliers International added that progress in the Westshore area, the largest submarket in the state with 15 million square feet of inventory, has been steady.

"It's been on a very good, steady absorption and recovery," Calzon said. That trickles into secondary markets, like east Tampa and into eastern Hillsborough County, including areas like Valrico, which she called a niche market.

"Anytime you're off the beaten path, you're going to be in a niche market," she said, and while the market is still not as robust as before 2008, "it has been improving."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Keeley Sheehan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2453.

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