CHICAGO-Two local industrial REITs, with sharply different market focuses, are seeing varied trends among their corporate customers. The story at Oak Brook-based CenterPoint Properties Trust is early lease renewals, while sales by users have caught First Industrial Realty Trust Inc. dealmakers’ attention.

“The highlight of the [third] quarter really was early renewals,” said CenterPoint Properties chief investment officer Paul T. Ahern in his REIT’s recent earnings conference call. Six tenants accounted for 402,000 sf in early renewals, at a 2% increase in rent, Ahern reported.

Tenants are renewing early to lock in “attractive” lease rates, Ahern explains, and seem to want to avoid the cost of moving. “We do see a lot of tenants going in that direction,” Ahern adds. “We expect this trend to continue.”

While CenterPoint’s holdings are in this market, First Industrial Realty Trust maintains a national presence. The effects of a sluggish national economy has paid off for the REIT, company officials indicated in their recent conference call.

So, too, for First Industrial. “The direct effect on our business is that their trends have helped us have a record-setting quarter,” says CEO Michael Brennan, noting companies are looking for increased efficiency as well as profits.

“In this tough environment, more and more companies are trying to sell their real estate to shore up their balance sheet,” adds chief investment officer Johnnson Yap. Not only do corporations have continued pressure to meet earnings expectations, Yap adds pension fund obligations exacerbated by a declining stock market has made disposing of real estate an easier call.

First Industrial leased 34% of the space in its speculative pipeline during the third quarter, Brennan reports. However, the REIT is hardly complacent. “The biggest challenge we face in ’02 and ’03 is leasing,” says Brennan, adding First Industrial is committed to increasing incentives to tenants, as well as brokers.

CenterPoint Properties Trust is the largest industrial property owner in a Chicago area market that in the company’s view, now includes southeast Wisconsin. A property manager and “dealmaker” have been moved to Milwaukee, the company reports.

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