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Tampa Bay commercial real estate 'is on fire.' But for how long?

Workers complete a portion of the exterior of the Stone Lofts in St. Petersburg in January. In the background is the building shell of the Steel Lofts, scheduled to be completed in 2020. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published May 2

ST. PETERSBURG — Despite rising construction costs and a "hint of conservatism" in lending, Tampa Bay's extraordinary building boom could continue for several more years.

And despite concerns about an oversupply of apartments and storage units, any gluts are apt to be temporary and limited to certain geographic areas.

Those were among the points stressed Thursday by speakers at a "Capital Markets Update" sponsored by the Tampa Bay chapter of the Urban Land Institute. None forecast a recession like that of 2008 hitting in the next four or five years so long as money continues to be readily available.

"Tampa Bay is on fire," said Yakhin Israel, senior vice president of the brokerage firm CBRE. "I can't go a day without hearing from somebody who wants to invest in Tampa Bay or lend in Tampa Bay."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Charting when the bottom fell out of Tampa Bay's housing market

The legacy of the financial crash, though, is felt in the changing ratio between the amount of money that banks loan for a project and the amount that comes from other sources of financing. During the last boom, banks might loan 75 percent or more; today, it's about 60 percent.

"There's a hint of conservatism in the air," said Al Rogers, executive lending officer of Valley Bank, which has 15 branches in the Tampa Bay area. "We are dialing back a slight amount on leverage. We're just concerned that with so much expansion and development and such, we are prone to overbuild.

"We haven't seen it yet but we're sleeping with one eye open."

The gaps between what banks will lend and what a project costs are being filled, in part, by extremely wealth individuals. "The people who take risks can afford to lose it all," said Gus Katsadouros of Tampa investment firm Osprey Capital.

He noted that one mega local development appears to have "zero debt" — Tampa's $3 billion Water Street, funded by a partnership between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, which is owned by Bill Gates, the world's second richest man.

Instead of a recession, Katsadouros said he foresees a possible "correction" in the near term. "In the last year and a half, we've felt construction costs are too high and developers are overly aggressive," he said.

Construction costs in the Tampa Bay area are rising about 20 percent a year — which is bad in that it's driving up the total cost of projects but positive in that it can keep over-development in check. Other factors mitigating the risk of recession include low interest rates.

Some other takeaways:

• Industrial projects: "Industrial seems to be on a wave," said Rogers, whose bank is financing an 800,000 square foot distribution center in Lakeland. The growth in e-commerce has fueled a demand for warehouse space, especially in Lakeland, which is within an hour's driving distance of 9 million Floridians. Industrial growth will continue elsewhere along the Interstate 4 corridor as well as along Interstate 75.

• Opportunity zones: The Tampa Bay area has dozens of the zones, created in the 2017 Tax Act, to spur investment in depressed areas by giving investors big tax breaks. However, Israel said "there is way more money being raised than there are real opportunities. He added: "The deal needs to work on its own merits, not just because of where it is."

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

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