Broker hired to lease 7 Columbia buildings

NAI KLNB retained by General Growth

October 26, 2007|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,Sun reporter

A commercial real estate broker is taking over leasing duties for a large part of General Growth Properties' downtown Columbia office buildings.

General Growth, which owns most of the Town Center offices and had been handling the leasing itself, said yesterday that NAI KLNB will focus its attention on seven buildings ringing the Mall in Columbia. The offices, which total about 1 million square feet, sit alongside Little Patuxent Parkway.

General Growth says the vacancy rate of those buildings is about 15 percent, higher than its overall Columbia office portfolio. Vacancies in those seven offices are on par with the class A space in downtown Baltimore but a bit higher than in other suburban areas in the region.

Town Center - suburbia's answer to urban downtowns - is dealing with some of the same forces that hit traditional central business districts as growth pushed outward into the suburbs. It has for years had to compete with newer offices farther away from Columbia's core, said L. Jamie Smith, an executive vice president at commercial real estate firm Colliers Pinkard.

"The hotter areas, if you will, for office space are definitely in Gateway, Maple Lawn and the Route 100 corridor," said Darrell Nevin, managing member of LeaseWright, a Columbia commercial real estate firm.

"They're closer to I-95, which saves anybody who's doing business in Baltimore or Washington 20 minutes or more anytime they leave the office."

David J. Fritz, a principal with NAI KLNB, said the company intends to combat this "flight to other markets" with a regional marketing campaign promoting Town Center amenities.

The mall and restaurants are within walking distance.

Local leaders and residents are in the midst of debating how Town Center should grow.

"We really feel bullish about the Town Center," said Luc Picotte, vice president of asset management with General Growth. "That's why we're really focusing on a more aggressive strategy here - there's a lot of amenities and I think it's a wonderful area for potential tenants."

The Rouse Co., which General Growth bought in 2004, generally did its own office leasing. General Growth doesn't, which is why it decided to get outside help, Picotte said.

"We think it's going to help us achieve higher profitability," he said.

General Growth, a mall operator with headquarters in Chicago, sold 21 office buildings in Baltimore County in 2005. But Picotte said the company has no plans to let go of its Town Center portfolio.

"We think they're part of the retail environment," he said.

jamie.smith.hopkins @baltsun.com

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