- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Retailers and real estate developers are meeting today at the Washington Convention Center to discuss prospects for developers to build outlets for retailers in the Washington area.

They are attending the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Mid-Atlantic Idea Exchange. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is scheduled to speak about economic development in Washington.

If there was a good time for developers to build a new shopping center in Washington, now is as good as any.

“It’s white-hot,” Steve Moore, president of the D.C. Economic Partnership, a trade group that promotes industry in the District, said about the region’s retail development market.

Mr. Moore plans to act as a go-between in deals between real estate developers and retailers at the conference today.

“We have stable job growth. We have demand for housing, and obviously, those roofs need retail amenities,” said Chuck Blessing, regional manager in the Washington office of Marcus & Millichap, a real estate investment brokerage company.

The District’s best sites for new shopping centers would be in Northwest, Dupont Circle, Georgetown and Columbia Heights, he said.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Mr. Blessing said. “There’s definitely critical mass in terms of development.”

More than 2,000 retailers, developers, realtors and other industry representatives are signed up for the two-day conference.

Retailers searching for opportunities in the Washington area include Bruster’s Ice Cream, homemade style ice cream, sherbet, yogurt and pastries stores; Doctors On Sight, an eye care center and optical superstore; Mimis Cafe, a casual family restaurant with French decor; Saxbys Coffee & Tea, a gourmet coffee, loose-leaf tea, smoothies and pastries shop; XSport Fitness, a health and fitness club open 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and JW Tumbles, a children’s gymnasium for motor-skill development.

In other news…

Strong demand for office rentals in Washington is likely to continue the rest of this year, according to a new report from the real estate firm Cassidy & Pinkard.

Last year, supply only barely met demand, the report said.

The amount of office space being leased in the District has risen steadily in the past four years from 209,000 square feet in 2002 to more than 1.8 million square feet last year.

“A growing pipeline of tenants in the market portends good demand for 2006,” the Cassidy & Pinkard report said.

The rapid pace of office development showed up last year as changes in vacancy rates.

Vacancy rates dropped from 7.3 percent to 7 percent in the central business district in the past three months of 2005.

Vacancies fell from 10.1 percent to 7.8 percent for the year in the east end, near Gallery Place and Chinatown.

In areas where construction of large, unleased office complexes was completed in 2005, vacancy rates rose as realtors sought tenants.

In one instance, vacancy rates in the Southwest/Southeast submarket rose from 5.2 percent to 9.6 percent as 750,000 square feet of unleased space in new buildings became available.

Property Lines runs on Thursdays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail tramstack@washingtontimes.com.

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