Brought to you by Forge & Foster Investment Management.

It isn’t news to anyone at this point, but 2020 hasn’t been the greatest year for a wide variety of business ventures.

Lockdowns, closures, restrictions, and uncertainties have done a number on countless Hamilton residents, institutions, businesses, and enterprises; and though a vaccine is poised to eventually mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we aren’t out of the woods just yet.

However, in spite of the considerable struggles of this year and a number of heartbreaking local closures, Hamilton has nonetheless seen the steady birth of numerous new businesses and a continuing rise in the investment in commercial real estate within the city, despite a downward trend when the pandemic first touched the city back in March.

To learn more about it from the inside, I spoke to Alex Manojlovich, Strategy & Acquisition Associate at Hamilton real estate investment firm Forge & Foster.

Here is what Alex had to say about the state of commercial real estate in Hamilton for 2020.

What is your opinion on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the commercial real estate market? 

Alex: From the outset of the pandemic in March and April, Hamilton witnessed the volume of commercial real estate (CRE) transactions dwindle, but it didn’t take long to ramp back up in the summer and fall months.

Initially, there was a lot of uncertainty and some skepticism, especially with businesses facing restrictions stemming from COVID-19, but the government’s fiscal policies and programs have done a good job so far of floating most local business and subsequently associated CRE value.

Thankfully, we are currently seeing a stable market for the most part.

Are there any specific trends in commercial real estate you’ve noticed this year?

Alex: This year, we’ve seen massive demand for the multi-residential and industrial asset classes and a decline in retail. We’d been witnessing this trend before COVID-19 struck, and it’s only been exacerbated now due to social distancing measures. Not just Hamilton, but all of Ontario is still facing an affordability crisis for residential living, so demand for overall living space has remained strong.

I’ve noticed a bifurcation of the industrial asset class. On one hand, the demand of e-commerce has accelerated the need for distribution, fulfillment, and overall warehousing; something Hamilton’s currently witnessing at the Hamilton Airport with the Panattoni, Amazon, and DHL developments.

On the other hand, smaller industrial spaces that once may have been a car garage or paint shop are now catching the eye of general employment and are transforming into “flex” spaces. Breweries, tech companies, retail businesses, office users, and more are looking to these spaces mainly because industrial units possess more affordable rents.

As the need for a brick and mortar retail space declines and the necessity of an online presence rises, owning a retail space on a traditional high street for triple the rental rate of an industrial space isn’t as vital. I believe in-person retail will survive, but will be buoyed by local neighbourhoods in high density areas.

To me, office space is the big question mark. The appetite for it has been paused as the work-from-home movement has produced a murky future for the necessity of office space. However, it’s my opinion that offices will be fine for the most part, as people still value social in-person interaction. It’s also great to see office developments in the core progressing, specifically Core Urban’s Olympia Club and Effort Trust’s office on the corner of Hughson Street and King Street East at Gore Park.

I’m personally getting drained by Zoom meetings and I think most people are feeling similarly and will welcome a return to some face to face time. That said, it’s my belief that the current experience of working from home will open the door for greater flexibility in the future for employees.

What were some of the biggest acquisitions of the quarter?

Alex: Overall, Hamilton’s commercial real estate market for the third quarter witnessed over $322 million transact — one of the largest quarterly volumes we’ve seen in the last several years.

The largest transaction this past quarter was by InterRent REIT’s acquisition of three multi-residential towers: 600 John Street North, 35 Brock Street and 100 Main Street East (Landmark Place) for $27 million, $33 million and $76 million respectively. 600 John Street North and 35 Brock Street are located near Pier 8, and 100 Main Street East is kitty corner to the upcoming Royal Connaught developments so overall, all three assets are located in what’s presumed to be high growth areas of Hamilton.

Another notable acquisition this past quarter was 1842 King Street East, better known as Brock University’s Hamilton campus, for $11,250,000 by builder New Horizon Development Group. Given the history of the purchaser and the price point of $1.6 million per acre, it fits to be a future low rise residential development.

What area of development in Hamilton has you most excited?

Alex: There’s a lot to be excited about! The airport has attracted large suitors, some I mentioned before and some of which have not yet been publicly revealed. Downtown Hamilton is finally witnessing cranes in the air for Cobalt, Kiwi, and Platinum Condos and many more projects are in the pipeline.

However, for me, the most exciting area is the West Hamilton Innovation District (WHID), which is the McMaster Innovation Park (MIP) and Frid/Chatham Street lands (see header image). To the best of my knowledge, this is the only area of the city zoned for M1 – Research and Development, which permits tech and innovative uses and we’re subsequently witnessing fantastic growth in this regard.

MIP is a huge success story for the city and continues to grow with the purchase of the former Hamilton Spectator building, the intentions for 606 Aberdeen and Gowlings new office, and most recently their massive partnership with CCRM to construct a global biotech campus that “will be the first of its kind in the world“.

MIP tenant Fusion Pharmaceuticals has received over $150 USD million from international investors for its cancer treatment clinical trials. And if the LRT project ever kicks off, the WHID will also be home to the Operations, Maintenance and Storage Facility. It’s fantastic to see world leading innovation and development occurring in Hamilton and it’s only going to continue to grow.

Finally, how can people stay informed on Hamilton’s latest commercial real estate news? 

Alex: If people are interested in staying in touch on the Hamilton commercial real estate market, we create a weekly email newsletter that highlights the latest transactions, relevant news, trends and developments. The subscription link can be found here.

Feel free to reach out to me personally at alex.manojlovich@forgeandfoster.ca

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