SAN DIEGO-”A city-wide vision” is what is needed to pick San Diego out of its financial woes, said Jim Waring, the city’s deputy chief of land use and economic development. Serving as keynote speaker at San Diego’s RealShare Conference held yesterday on the University of San Diego campus, Waring said the city will make a comprehensive update to the area’s 44 community plans.

In defense of media statements about the city being uneducated about its holdings, Waring struck an assertive pose in saying, “the city does know what it owns.” He added, however, that the city is badly in need of updating its technology concerning city-owned property.

Among those holdings are 3,700 assets. “These real estate assets will be one of the keys to righting the city’s financial situation,” Waring said. “We will work through hundreds of properties that will be surplused.” The city will also drive revenues by being more efficient and technologically proficient in its lease management practices, he added.

A Town Hall Meeting titled, “Can the Good Times Last?” followed Waring’s opening remarks. Moderated by John Frager, president and CEO of Grubb & Ellis/BRE Commercial, the panel took a broad approach to the area’s real estate and infrastructure issues, measuring its future versus the aggressive growth of recent years.

Panelists included Nancy Graham, president and COO of Centre City Development Corp.; Kent Williams, First VP/regional manager for Marcus & Millichap, Jason Wood, director of development for Cisterra Partners LLC; and John Barganski, vice president of leasing for Trizec Properties Inc.’s Southern California region.

Williams said much of the area’s properties have “been picked over. We will not see the same levels of growth, but you can make money here as well as you can in other markets. You just have to have an eye for it.” In regards to rising rents, particularly among the class A properties, Wood said tenants “will have to make a choice of where they want to be.” He believes rents will continue ticking up and tenants unwilling to meet those prices will “have to go down to class B properties.”

One of the better indicators of the office market’s health was in the comments made by CCDC’s Graham. While the organization has been a driving force with Downtown San Diego’s recent housing boom, Graham said her efforts have become more focused, of late, on the office sector. She said the area is seeing strong activity with tenants moving between buildings in the CBD. However, the area’s not yet seeing much movement with new tenants moving from outside the Downtown area.

In another hot-button panel, “Who’s Buying Up San Diego?” attendees and panelists alike directed many of the questions to panelist Steve Center, regional vice president for leasing with the Irvine Co. The Orange County-based firm has made a major stake in the area with its acquisition of numerous trophy properties in the CBD.

According to Center, expect the Irvine Co.’s local presence to remain a steady influence in the area. “We don’t sell,” Center said. “We still own the first property we developed in 1969.”

Nicholas Psyllos, SVP with CB Richard Ellis moderated, while panelists included Matthew Root, a partner with the Shidler Group; Chad Carpenter, CEO of Equastone; and Philip Monroe, principal with Cruzan/Monroe.

While institutional money has priced many of the local investors out of the market, the panelists agreed San Diego does have investment opportunities, but it’s mostly with labor-intensive, value-added plays. “We’re at a point in the cycle where people need to roll up their sleeves and do the work,” Monroe said. Some players, like Root, are looking to other markets like Honolulu and Arizona, where inefficiencies still exist.

Other panels at the conference included: “Getting Deals Done in the Heated Debt & Equity Capital Markets;” “What Corporate Real Estate Executives Like, and Dislike, about the San Diego Market;” and “The TIC Market, What Comes Next?”

Approximately 300 industry professionals attended the conference, which was produced by Real Estate Media. The firm is publisher of Real Estate Southern California, Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com.

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