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ATLANTA- Marcus & Millichap’s regional manager Rick Ross will moderate a panel of developers and real estate professionals at the Atlanta Property Opportunities Conference Thursday at the Swissotel here.

They will address the current downturn in Atlanta’s office space market, a downturn Ross prefers to call a slowdown.

The panel will include Carter & Associates-ONCOR executive vice president Phil Stevenson; Richard Bowers, president, Richard Bowers & Co.; Hines Interests Inc.’s senior vice president Bob Voyles; and Childress Klein managing partner Don Childress.

“I think the question that we all want to know the answer to is, ‘What’s the difference between today and the last devastating real estate cycle of the early 90′s,’” Ross tells GlobeSt.com.

“As a group, we understand that our audience is a diverse audience with various interests, and at the end of the day, almost every person in that room feeds their family from income generated in the real estate industry.”

Ross contends the current status of the local market is much like slowing from a high speed on the road to the speed limit. He says Buckhead as a submarket continues to show signs of life with a low 5.3% vacancy level, as does the perimeter. The broker maintains that, barring effects from the larger economy, this downturn should remain a simple slowdown.

“According to the best information we have, the Georgia Department of Labor and the economists at Georgia State College, authorities are predicting we’re going to net 30,000 or more new jobs in metro Atlanta by the end of the year in 2001, and while that’s a 65% drop from our high in 1999, it’s still the equivalent of adding a small town to Atlanta,” Ross says.

And in the office market, he adds, the slowdown trend is lessening in at least one major indicator.

“I think the key is the absorption rate, how fast new construction is being absorbed into the market,” Ross tells GlobeSt.com. “The latest numbers for the second quarter are somewhat positive.”

Net absorption in the market rebounded in the second quarter, Ross says in a press release, doubling after an 80% drop in the first quarter.

“What we see are supply and demand out of balance,” he concludes. “There’s more space vacant, and that will probably create a downward pressure on rent, but is that the notion of ‘overbuilding,’ where we’d see lenders despairing and building owners trying to move their assets to a Cayman bank account?”

Ross contends that “as long as something devastating doesn’t happen to the economy as a whole, the Atlanta market is only slowing down” and not heading for a downturn.

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