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IRVINE, CA-”The gold standard,” was an oft-heard phrase at yesterday’s RealShare Orange County conference. Robert Brunswick of Buchanan Street Partners repeated the words throughout the Town Hall Meeting, using them like a hammer to drive home his point about OC’s gilded status as an area to live, work and play: it’s a market that carries a rich diversity of jobs, an overflow of intellectual capital, an enviable, tropical climate and a transportation-friendly, masterplanned design.

The long-term prognosis is bullish for Orange County’s various economic and commercial real estate product types, according to Brunswick and other conference panelists. But the short term is another story.

Like the early morning Huntington Beach surfers zigzagging among crashing waves, real estate professionals will likely be navigating a dangerous path over the next year or so. The experts agreed that the “gold standard” would be taking a respite as the area’s movers and shakers ride out the subprime fallout, with its subsequent credit crunch and overall economic woes.

While the event, held at the Hyatt Regency in Irvine, maintained a sobering tone, any market gloom did not slow attendance. A record crowd of 450 industry professionals showed up for the fifth annual RealShare Orange County conference. The conference, along with other RealShare events nationwide, is produced by Real Estate Media, publishers of GlobeSt.com, Real Estate Southern California, Real Estate Forum magazine and other print and online publications devoted to commercial real estate.

The day’s keynote speaker, director Kerry Vandell of the University of California at Irvine’s Center for Real Estate, kicked off the event. He provided an outlook on the local, state and US economies, citing studies from MIT and Torto Wheaton. Vandell said the overall market dynamics were fine in some regards and “spotty in others. Cap rates are stabilized, though at historically, low levels and demand remains strong, still outstripping supply in the office market.”

In regards to the credit crunch, Vandell said he’s less worried about Wall Street than he is Main Street. He said a Fed and Central Bank intervention would create “an orderly retreat” from any illiquidity, softening the hits Wall Street will take. Though it will see more rigorous underwriting moving forward. Main Street is another matter, he said, as the “depth and the duration of the housing slump” depends upon the level of homebuilders slowing down supply.

Besides Vandell and the Town Hall Meeting, another highlight included president and CEO Bill Halford of the Bixby Land Co. and co-president Tom McCarthy of McCarthy Cook and Co. going toe-to-toe in a rapid-fire real estate version of the popular ESPN program “Pardon the Interruption.” Breakout sessions included topics on: “Quantifying the Level of Distress in the Orange County Real Estate Market,” “Can the Resurgent Orange County Office Market Live Up to Owner, Investor and Developer Expectations?” and “Getting Deals Done in the Debt & Equity Capital Markets.”

Another highlight was the signature RealShare series “Inside the Real Estate Mind.” Group publisher and editorial director Michael Desiato of Real Estate Media interviewed John Parker, chairman of Parker Properties.

Parker, who has been an industry leader in Orange County since the early 60s, and has seen the market at every possible turn, provided advice to those who haven’t been through a complete cycle. “Be concerned, but don’t be scared about the future,” Parker said. “There’s a ‘fear of the down cycle.’ I keep hearing that, but we have to accept the down cycle. Not fear it. We’re an international economy and Orange County will be even more important [after this slowdown] than it was in the past.”

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