From companies that successfully switched to telework operations to tenants that pivoted to new business models to market segments that posted strong leasing rates, 2020 contained bright spots despite the pandemic. NAIOP Maryland’s Developing Leaders highlighted those successes as well as optimistic signs for a real estate rebound in 2021 during the recent “Forging Ahead” webinar.

“After participating in eight months of virtual events discussing the direct, negative impacts of the pandemic, we thought it was time to convene the group and chat about the positives in 2020,” said Spencer Perry, webinar moderator, DL Chairman and Business Services Officer – Commercial Real Estate at BB&T now Truist. “With the year coming to a close, we believed it was timely to discuss what might happen next, especially given the promising vaccine developments and how this impacts commercial real estate.”

“Times like these have stressed the importance of maintaining close working relationships with local jurisdictions,” stated Dustin Lynch, Senior Project Manager for St. John Properties. “These relationships have allowed us to work with the various counties through the permit and inspections process to expedite tenant construction schedules. This process has been crucial to achieving difficult timelines to meet our clients’ changing needs.”

Lauren Lindsay, Leasing Associate with Merritt Properties, said her company was “extremely impressed with the ability of several of our clients to pivot and reinvent themselves. This includes East Coast Dyes, Cleary Packaging and Geller Lighting, with some becoming manufacturers of face shields, hand sanitizers and other PPE equipment. Some of the gaming companies in our portfolio performed extremely well and, starting in the summer, we started to see a noticeable uptick in [property] tours.”

At Hill Management Services, “occupancy in our multi-family and self-storage portfolio increased with very little turnover, as companies and individuals were interested in staying in place,” said Paul Giulio, Vice President of Development. “Our flex and warehouse product remains strong and we are nearing completion of a new 66,000 square foot building in Anne Arundel County. As we draw closer to the time when the vaccine will be administered, we envision more people returning to work and the office environment getting closer to normalcy.” 

2020 even presented some opportunities for new developments and new community amenities.

“I was encouraged to see plans for our first annual outdoor skating rink in Downtown Columbia’s Merriweather District take shape, as I believe it is important to provide this amenity while bringing the community together in a safe and family friendly manner,” stated Michael Tait, Manager, Leasing for The Howard Hughes Corporation. “On the development side, we are set to break ground on a new multi-family project, Marlow, in the Merriweather District which will consist of more than 450 units. Reflecting on the work-from-home trend, Marlow will be focused on providing alternate work spaces, such as a den, within the unit itself, in addition to throughout the building. We see renewed optimism among end-users in all of our asset classes in Downtown Columbia.”

“We’ve all been involved in the largest work-from-home experiment in history and, although many people are prepping to work long-term from home, the vast majority are eager to return to the traditional office setting for camaraderie and collaborative reasons,” Perry added. “Truist intends to shift to a more flexible office space configuration post-pandemic, which is also known as office hoteling. The group’s consensus is that return to work arrangements will be evolving over time and property owners should pay careful attention to creating office environments that can adapt to tenant’s changing needs.”