Thursday, December 4, 2008

Manhattan Awash In Open Office Space

Source : The Business Times, December 4, 2008

Finance firms giving up space as they downsize, picture could get worse

(NEW YORK) Last year, when the New York real estate market was still frothy, large blocks of office space were hard to come by. Not anymore.

More space soon: The concrete core of the Freedom Tower being built, on the site of the World Trade Center. The new building, higher than the Empire State Building, will add to the glut of Manhattan open office space available

Almost 16 million square feet is currently listed as available in large blocks in 68 office buildings in Manhattan, according to Colliers ABR, a commercial brokerage firm. That is nearly double the space available a year ago, both in terms of the number of large office blocks - which in New York usually means 100,000 sq ft or more - and in terms of total square feet.

Those figures are widely expected to go much higher, said Robert L Sammons, the managing director of research for Colliers ABR. He said it was difficult to get a handle on exactly how much space financial companies alone might put back onto the Manhattan office market over the next year or so.

'Honestly, I don't think any of these financial firms knows how this is going to play out,' he said. 'They are trying to figure out how many people they will need on staff, and in some cases how they are going to stay in business.'

Pending layoffs in the financial industry certainly account for some of the space on the market. But there are other factors. Some companies are moving into new headquarters - which were first planned years ago - while others are disposing of real estate that they came into through acquisitions.

By far the biggest increase in availability has been in the sublease market. Currently, at least 16 large office blocks are being marketed for sublease in Manhattan, up from just three listed at this time last year, according to Colliers ABR.

Michael Colacino, the president of Studley, a real estate brokerage firm that specialises in representing office tenants, said the sublet space that had come onto the market recently was attractively priced.

He said some tenants might do better by shopping the sublet market rather than trying to renegotiate a better rent with their current landlords. 'A lot of landlords are still in denial,' Mr Colacino said, 'but the sublease space is priced realistically for the actual market conditions.'

Mr Colacino estimates that the actual rents on deals signed in the last three months are down by as much as 20-30 per cent from the going rents at the end of the summer - to around US$75-80 per sq ft annually in midtown and around US$45 per sq ft downtown.

Among current offerings - including both subleases and direct leases from owners - roughly a quarter of the space in the midtown and downtown office markets became available because a financial company either did not renew its lease or decided to market the space for sublet.

But the picture could become much starker next year. Among large office blocks that brokers expect to hit the market, Mr Sammons estimates that the financial industry will account for roughly one-third of the new space coming on the market in midtown and more than half of the new space downtown.

Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank all have leases that Mr Sammons counted among the potential new listings of large office blocks. And that list does not include Citigroup - although the banking giant has announced that it will lay off more than 50,000 employees worldwide - because Mr Sammons said it was too soon to know if Citigroup would give up any large office blocks in Manhattan.

So far this year, brokers say, the main event in midtown has been the completion of One Bryant Park, a 54-storey office tower that recently opened at the corner of 42nd Street and the Avenue of the Americas.

As the main tenant Bank of America moves employees into this new building, it is giving up earlier leases for hundreds of thousands of square feet in other prominent midtown office buildings. -- NYT

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