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Auburn speckled with empty buildings for sale

Some say interest growing in vacant commercial spaces
By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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After a long period of slow sales and falling prices, local Realtors are seeing increased interest in Auburn’s commercial buildings. “Since November we’ve had an uptick in activity,” Mike Fluty with Coldwell Banker Commercial said this week. “Buyers who were sitting on the sidelines seem to be coming out.” Fluty acknowledged that he is negotiations for the sale of several properties, but declined to offer specifics. “I just showed one of (my properties) that’s been out there for two years-plus,” he said. “I showed it twice in the past week. We’d gone months without an inquiry on it.” It’s a change from 18 months ago, when most of the local commercial real estate movement centered around business owners renegotiating their leases and moving to smaller space, according to previous Journal reporting. Among Coldwell Banker’s commercial listings in Auburn are the former Robie House day spa on High Street, two buildings — 21,444 square feet and 64,480 square feet — at the airport business park, and the former Encore Music space on Cleveland Avenue. Last summer, Coldwell Banker sold one airport property, Wholesale Outlet’s 21,000-square-foot building at 12810 Earhart Way, Fluty said. He estimates his company has about 100,000 square feet of Auburn office and manufacturing space in its commercial real estate listings currently. Other available properties, as listed at Loopnet.com, are the former Community 1st Bank building at Highway 49 and Kemper Road, priced at $995,000; the 84 Lumber building, Highway 49 and Dry Creek Road, 110,108 square feet, with a $4,500,000 pricetag; and three other airport properties — 12850 Bill Clark Way, 79,287 square feet, at $12,685,920; 12789 Earhart Ave., 65,124 square feet, price $8,140,500; and 2301 Lindbergh St., 51,491 square feet, listed at $5,664,010. For those looking to invest in commercial real estate, prices have dropped about 45 percent from the high in 2006, Fluty said. “The vacant buildings have fallen the most,” he added. Those include the Courtyard Professional Center, with 25,565 square feet, across from the Gold Country Fairgrounds and a multi-story unfinished building on Elm Avenue, near Highway 49, which is now back in the hands of Citizens Bank. Citizens Bank has taken the Elm Street property off the market and is now completing exterior work on the building, according to Susann Boley, executive vice president and chief financial officer. “We’re trying to decide what to do with it,” Boley said. “We want to finish up the exterior and we have someone who has expressed an interest in leasing the interior — some of it. But we haven’t pursued that yet.” The four-story structure has 15,000 to 16,000 square feet of space, she said. The glut of commercial space is a concern, said Rich Johnson, chairman of the government affairs and economic development committee at the Auburn Chamber of Commerce. “The topic of empty office space and how to fill it is as important as the houses underwater,” he said. Johnson’s impression is that there hasn’t been any noticeable improvement, which he attributes to the lethargic economy. The fallout from those vacancies is reaching the chamber. “People have dropped membership,” he said. “They get the bill in the mail and they’re barely hanging on. And we’ve lost a lot of businesses in town so they drop their membership, too.” However, he does see a silver lining. “In our walkabout last spring, we did find businesses that are surviving and doing well,” he said. At Eugene Burger Management in Auburn, Senior Vice President Karen Brigg said she is seeing an increase in calls about office space. “Actually, out of this office, (we handled) quite a few leases last year,” she said. “It was a real good year for us. It’s funny because I was out of the office this morning. I came back in and had three calls from people interested in space.” Much of the movement hasn’t translated directly into more occupied space because there’s a balance between tenants vacating and leasing space. “Or you see tenants upgrading office space, trying to get something newer on the market and that suits their needs better,” she said. Brigg is optimistic about the coming year. “I think 2011 is going to be a better year,” she said. “Right now, it is very much a tenants’ market out there. … We had a good strong year last year and I expect we’ll have one this year.” Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com.