Buy dirt

Buy dirt.

It’s an interesting expression, one that my real estate partner shares with me, to the point of having a vanity plate on his car stating such. Recently, though, our discussion has been about changing his vanity plate to read “sold out.” That about sums up our South Florida land market — sold out.

Dirt is key to growth in any market, and South Florida has a more limited supply than most. These days, more and more property is being rezoned to accommodate alternate uses. Industrial land is being used for houses, apartments, office and retail. This “sold out” situation has necessitated the drive to move north. Interestingly, while Palm Beach County has experienced modest growth in the last three to five years as a result of the Dade and Broward infill, more notable is the vast growth of the St. Lucie and Fort Pierce markets.

The residential growth in these markets has been amazing, and what follows is the retail to support the people, the office space to work the people and the industrial space to house the goods for the people.

Understanding this, my team dedicated a great portion of last year inventorying the land parcels, big and small, in those markets, and sharing this information with major developers and institutions looking to develop and land bank there. These markets continue to grow, and we continue to update ourselves on that growth, but more important is the trend we see in Palm Beach County.

That market, while possibly being a bit stepped over, has become the more immediate developing market. We see the rezoning to alternate uses becoming prominent, and the availability of what we refer to as “ready to go” land sites — those with entitlements, zoning and infrastructure in place — becoming more rare and more expensive every day.

Still, Palm Beach is poised for growth, faster and more densely than that in St. Lucie and Fort Pierce. The dynamics are here, the people are here and the road systems have been expanding for years, and all of these areas continue to grow. Developers and investors are refocusing their efforts on Palm Beach County as a market that will develop faster than those more northern counties.

That said, many are still buying property in the “growth paths” in those markets and waiting for the development to catch up. Still, Palm Beach is undergoing a renaissance of activity, a growth in the amount of residential, office, distribution and speculative development that doesn’t seem to be slowing. Industry growth will continue in Palm Beach for the next 12 to 24 months.

Florida, particularly South Florida, continues to be a focus for companies as a hub for both international and national businesses. The ports and airports continue to expand, and the areas around those are filling in.

Dade and Broward have virtually no land left, and what is available is priced beyond what developers are willing to pay. The remaining parcels are almost exclusively for owner/users who just have to be there and are willing to pay the price. But moving north is a viable option, as population density decreases, traffic is more manageable and there remains land for speculative development.

Because of the traffic and density issues in Dade and Broward, companies can afford to relocate to Palm Beach because they can travel twice the distance north in the same amount of time they spend driving south. This problem will continue, even as Palm Beach develops to the extreme, adding even more credibility to the markets of St. Lucie and Fort Pierce.

In the not too distant future, South Florida will include all the way to the Fort Pierce market, opening up the southern hub to service north, even out of Florida into Georgia.

Buy dirt? Yes, we think so.

Richard F. Etner, Jr., SIOR, is senior director of Cushman and Wakefield in Fort Lauderdale and is part of a team that includes Chris Metzger, senior director, and Sky Grodon. Reach him at (954) 771-0800.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.