SAN FRANCISCO-The Bay Area and its extended environs has long been associated with innovation. From the original production of Silicon to the various tech booms, being on the cutting edge is what shapes this market—and has been a catalyst for the area’s boom-bust cycles.

Some experts at yesterday’s RealShare San Francisco conference, held at the Hyatt Regency, believe the area is on the cusp of another tech wave. “The clean tech or green tech business could be the third wave of Silicon Valley,” said Mark Hansen, VP of capital deployment for AMB Property Corp.

Speaking during the conference’s Town Hall meeting, Hansen said venture capital money is flowing into green- and clean tech niches, including the solar industry, alternative energy solutions and how to make buildings work more efficiently. “(The real estate industry) is coming up with products to be greener,” he said. “You’re not going to see a lot of development of non-LEED buildings moving forward.”

The demand for green properties “is off the charts,” added Drew Arvay, a partner with NAI BT Commercial Real Estate. “The challenge will be with the practicality of the cost to build. But we’re seeing that companies are very into green and developers are into it. They’re accepting that it’s a component of new development.”

Arvay said he doesn’t foresee green tech being as big as the Internet was to the area, but it will be “significant and our area will lead the way and will justify the price people will have to pay for rents.”

While working on a project in Downtown Portland, OR, Charles Malet, EVP, Shorenstein Properties LLC, saw first hand the inroads green development is making. Malet thought his firm was being “good corporate citizens,” on a particular LEED project, but there was another component to the project that he didn’t expect. There was a tremendous “amount of tenant demand to be there, with the companies using the green angle as a recruiting tool to [lure potential] employees.”

As for costs, TMG Partners managing director Matt Field said his company is involved in major rehabs and that the money side of sustainability is beginning to make sense. “We’re involved in a project with Rreef that will be LEED certified and the [additional] costs are a fraction of what they were just five years ago” when compared to a non-LEED building.

In addition to the greening of the area, panelists agreed that the local market is humming along nicely, with vacancy rates on the decline and rental rates on the rise. Most importantly, new development is in the pipeline, but it’s a good balance between supply and demand, a fact that has eluded the local players during past booms, according to Luis Belmonte, principal with Seven Hills Properties.

Speaking with RealShare Conference Series executive director Rich Kelley, during the popular Inside the Real Estate Mind segment, Belmonte said “for a change, we haven’t shot ourselves in the foot. In the 1980s money was coming from everywhere and we built twice as much of what we needed. Then the next tech wave came along and we shot ourselves in the foot again. We built space for people that couldn’t pay rent,” he added. “This time we didn’t overbuild.”

Keynote speaker Alec Burger, head of North America Lending for GE Real Estate, a division of GE Commercial Finance, said “the market fundamentals remain sound.” Burger, who has spent part of his career in the UK, said the “US rents are much cheaper compared to international markets.”

Burger added that he remains cautiously optimistic about the local and national real estate prospects. One reason for optimism is a glimmer of hope that opportunistic deals are returning to the market. Burger pointed to the recent $500-million-plus JV between Morgan Stanley and Lennar Corp. as an example.

Other highlights from the day included panels on the debt and equity markets; the TIC industry; the cap rate crunch; and a forecast on the office market. The second annual RealShare San Francisco conference, which drew some 200 industry professionals, is produced by Real Estate Media, publishers of, Real Estate Forum and Real Estate Southern California.

The most poignant message of the day came from Belmonte. A self-proclaimed “deal junkie,” Belmonte has ridden the ebbs and flows of the business cycle for decades. He offered advice to those who hadn’t experienced the cycle’s full spin, saying the worst thing you can do now in the market is live in fear. “That’s a terrible philosophy to live in fear of making an error.”

“I’ve never learned from the successes. The best learning process I’ve had is when I’ve screwed up.” That, Belmonte said, is what keeps him going, as he dusts himself off, climbs back on the saddle, and looks for that next deal.

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