Rob Baker - Land Development

Land Development: Construction Upturn

One veteran’s view of the marketplace reveals pent-up demand and resurgent activity.

Rob Baker has seen both fast starts and frustrating slowdowns during his 33 years in land development. These days definitely represent the former, according to the head of Moss & Associates’ Central Florida Division (from Tampa to Daytona Beach). As a construction management firm and a building contractor nationwide, Moss & Associates has had a hand in the construction of several stadium and university projects, like the Miami Marlins ballpark and Nova Southern University, along with regional projects such as the Orlando International Airport Landside Terminal Expansion, among many others.

Rob Baker spent some time talking about the marketplace, here’s what he had to say:

Let’s start with this: Where are the regional hot spots in land development?

“What we are focused on is the I-4 corridor—Orlando to Tampa and from Orlando to Volusia and Brevard counties. The reason is a study that says there will be a resurgence statewide, but a larger part of that market resurgence will be in that I-4 corridor. For that reason, we made a decision to move our Clearwater office to downtown Tampa. … That’s where we’re spending most of our time. That’s where we see the activity in the next year, three years, five years.”

When you look at the market, what conditions make a “hot spot”?

“Before the market downturn—if you choose to use the term ‘great recession,’ I don’t—there were a lot of projects in planning, both on the private and public sector sides. And they just got stopped before they got started. Some areas were ahead of others in terms of their development. For example, when you compare downtown Orlando to downtown Tampa, the urban renewal and urban redevelopment in Orlando was a bit ahead of the game. That’s to say that there was pent-up readiness in downtown Tampa that Orlando had already responded to, particularly on the residential side. Now when you go to Tampa there are several high- end urban residential projects under construction or in the planning stage to start in 2014.

“For example, ENCORE! is under construction in downtown Tampa. The first residential project has been built, and the second is being built now. (ENCORE! is a 40-plus-acre, mixed-use redevelopment project conceived to unite the central business district with Ybor City, Tampa Heights and other neighborhoods.)

“Another example is a project we have, called Circle Bayshore. It’s urban development right on Bayshore Boulevard. (Circle Bayshore is an eight-story, 367-unit apartment complex in the Hyde Park section of Tampa.) Behind that, in the SoHo of Tampa—short for South Howard Avenue—there is development occurring, both residential and commercial. … There’s also Residences at the Riverwalk, a high-rise [36 stories] residential mixed-use project [in Tampa’s arts district]. … So, there’s a lot going on in Tampa with regard to urban development, along with new hotels on the beach. They were planned and now they’re happening.

“When you look at Orlando, the [public] venues are under construction: the Amway Arena [completed and open]; the Citrus Bowl renovation, which is about to get started; and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is halfway through construction with a planned opening next fall. And there will be a new soccer stadium coming downtown, where the Orlando City Soccer Club team will play [beginning there in 2015]. The city of Orlando has spent a lot of time on getting those venues completed. A lot of residential development had gotten done before the downturn.”

Would you say the construction climate is good right now?

“I think there’s been a resurgence. I think if you take the four major metropolitan areas of Florida: Jacksonville, which I don’t know too much about; South Florida—Miami/Fort Lauderdale; Tampa and Orlando—the hottest market, where there are the most [housing] starts and significant private sector projects, would be Miami/Fort Lauderdale. I would say Tampa is second and Orlando is third with an asterisk. The asterisk being that in the longer view, Orlando is going to be the hottest market; three to five years out it’s going to be Orlando.”

Let’s take a brief look at the regional construction work force. What do you see?

“Several things. If you’re talking about construction management, yes, there is talent through the universities, which have really bright young students graduating with degrees in construction management and construction technology. They are there for the hiring and are plentiful. As far as depth at the job site level, where you have your workers, because a lot of work is starting—there is a limited amount of labor in the marketplace. A lot of talent left Florida when we had the downturn. Those people are starting to come back. But right now what we worry about on the contractor side is the availability of talented, skilled labor to work on these job sites. So the cost is going to be a bit higher on the labor side.”