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San Francisco’s Union Square Rezoning, 5 Old Properties with Mixed-Use Futures, U.S. Retail Vacancy and More

July 20, 2023

City leaders in San Francisco hope new zoning regulations will revitalize the beleaguered Union Square neighborhood. Retailers have been fleeing downtown San Francisco for residential neighborhoods since pandemic-driven working from home slowed weekday shopping traffic.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously has approved a significant amendment to the zoning regulations for Union Square to allow for a broader range of uses in Union Square buildings, including residential, office and retail. The move could revitalize Union Square and make it a more attractive destination for both businesses and residents.

The regulations also make it easier for retailers to put up signs to attract customers, and they streamline the process for converting office to residential, making it easier for developers to build housing in Union Square and attract new residents. Increasing the population of the neighborhood in turn would support more businesses and amenities.

The zoning changes are a major victory for the Union Square Alliance, which has been working for years to revitalize the district, and they’ll take effect Aug. 4.

City leaders also are working to attract retailers to Union Square with tax breaks and other incentives and to improve the public transportation to make it easier for people to get to Union Square.

PREVIOUSLY FROM CC+T: The Case for Rezoning San Francisco’s Union Square and Other Spots Like It

5 Old Properties with Mixed-Use Futures

Developers and municipal groups are transforming vacant buildings and lots into mixed-use developments to breathe new life into neighborhoods and create economic opportunities for the surrounding areas. Retail is a key component to serve residents and office workers in any such project.

Chicago: Vienna Beef will redevelop its 100-year-old Bucktown building, once the largest hot dog factory in the world, into the $20 million, 150,000-square-foot Vienna Beef Plaza with a themed restaurant, an outdoor plaza, retailers including a big-box anchor, and office space for the company. Vienna Beef left the property for Chicago’s West Side in 2020. Vienna Beef Plaza will open in spring 2024.

North Las Vegas: The slot machines stopped ringing at the Texas Station and Fiesta Rancho casinos years ago. Now, Agora Realty & Management is asking local officials to support the transformation of the site of the demolished gambling palaces into North Las Vegas Sports Village, according to KTNV Las Vegas. It would include residences, a hotel, 450,000 square feet of stores and restaurants, 100,000 square feet of office, a 100,000-square-foot ice rink, an open-air plaza and a gambling component.

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: Developers are breathing new life into a former nursing home in Plains Township. TFP Limited is moving forward with the 410,000-square-foot Valley Crest Commons on the 76-acre site. The developer’s plans, which still await final city approval, include a retail anchor, small shops, an entertainment component, medical space, offices, restaurants and other amenities.

Rock Hill, South Carolina: The Keith Corp. leads a redevelopment team that’s turning a former textile mill into The Thread, a $100 million complex with office, retail and apartments across 400,000 square feet. Phase 1 will open this winter.

Conroe, Texas: Real estate company Lindsey is turning the sites of three former downtown icons — Everett Hardware Store, the Conroe Hotel and Simonton-Cable Motor Co. — into separate, multi-use developments that will include retail, office and upscale residential units. Completion of all three is set for 2025.

Retail Real Estate Market Defies Economic Headwinds as Vacancy Tightens Yet Again

The U.S. retail real estate market thrived in the second quarter of 2023, despite constant talk of recession and big-name retail bankruptcies.

The national vacancy rate measured 5.4% in the second quarter, down 60 basis points year over year and 80 basis points from the pre-pandemic rate, according to Cushman & Wakefield’s quarterly tally. This marked the ninth consecutive quarter of declining vacancy, a streak that began in early 2021, according to the firm.

The South had the tightest vacancy, at 4.9%. Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; and Miami were the only markets nationally with sub-3% vacancy rates. Beyond the South, the lowest vacancy rates occurred in Columbus, Ohio; Boston; and Salt Lake City.

Demand for Physical Stores Remains Strong

The results were driven by demand for physical stores. The second quarter marked the ninth consecutive quarter in which retailers leased more new space in the U.S. than they vacated, resulting in total absorption of 7.1 million square feet. That was a marked acceleration from 2.6 million in the first quarter and just shy of the total over the past year. The five cities that absorbed the most new retail space in the second quarter were: Chicago with 1.3 million square feet; Dallas/Fort Worth with 1.3 million square feet; Phoenix with 441,000 square feet; Norfolk, Virginia, with 386,000 square feet; and Atlanta with 382,000 square feet.

Limited New Supply Keeps Rents Rising

Limited new supply has helped keep rents rising. U.S. retail rents in the U.S. averaged $23.47 per square foot in the second quarter, a 4.7% year-over-year increase. Asking rents have risen 16% cumulatively from 2019 levels.

The Market Could Moderate in 2024

While the retail real estate market has been strong so far in 2023, experts expect it to moderate in the next few quarters. “Retail real estate has been battle tested the last few years, facing everything from pandemic shutdowns to surging operating costs and supply disruptions, each time emerging in a healthier state than before,” said Cushman & Wakefield executive managing director and head of retail services for the Americas Barrie Scardina. “Competitive demand for physical stores in well-located centers has been a common trend, and while there are not yet any clear signs the hot streak is over, we do expect conditions to moderate in the next several quarters as the impacts of slower consumer spending and tighter financial conditions temper enthusiasm for large-scale expansion plans and provoke some footprint consolidation for troubled brands.”

Consumers Spent More Dining Out in June 2023 Than in June 2022

Sales at food-and-beverage service establishments increased 8.4% year-over-year in June, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That’s compared to a 3% increase in total retail sales minus auto and gas. Some of the largest sales gains were at health and personal care stores, up 6.3%; miscellaneous store retailers, up 1.5%; and food-and-beverage stores, up 1.3%.

Lincoln Property Co. Forms Joint Venture to Buy West Coast Properties

Institutional investors are still hot for supermarket-anchored retail, so Lincoln Property Co., which manages and operates 470 million square feet on behalf of such entities, is entering the West Coast retail arena. It has formed a joint venture with Paragon Commercial Group — a specialist in West Coast, value-add retail properties — to buy, develop and manage retail assets on the West Coast. Paragon will operate all of Lincoln Property’s retail properties on the West Coast, and Paragon co-founder Jim Dillavou will assume the role of Lincoln’s national head of retail real estate investments and retail capital markets.

By Brannon Boswell

Executive Editor, Commerce + Communities Today


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