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Shop till they drop

$1,000 per-square-foot Its results: sales that hit the annual $1,000-per-square-foot milestone for the period ending September 2011.

$1,000 per-square-foot

Its results: sales that hit the annual $1,000-per-square-foot milestone for the period ending September 2011.

That fact, and a traditional lack of good vacant retail space in the city, combines to make Calgary an appealing place for investors who can capitalize on demand for space.

Isaac Beall doesn't expect retail demand to wane soon. As a Colliers International retail specialist in Calgary, Beall expects to see "continued upward pressure" on lease rates that are already in the $60-to-$200-per-square-foot range in large shopping malls such as Chinook Centre and the northwest destination of Market Mall.

While $22-per-square-foot lease rates are still around in some Calgary districts in strip malls, new retailers outside the destination malls can also be looking at rates into the $40 range.

Such rates reflect not only Alberta retail spending that's 26 per cent above the national average, but also Cowtown's 1.45 per cent retail vacancy rate.

"We're effectively full. We've been consistently below 2 per cent for the last five years," Beall noted, adding that the only exception was when a U.S.-based retailer declared bankruptcy and closed six stores in Calgary. It freed up 250,000 square feet of space and jacked the vacancy rate to a whopping 2.03 per cent.

"We're one of the lowest vacancies in North America," he added.

Calgary's size and income levels also make it a logical stop for American firms expanding into the Canadian market. It was chosen for one of only two large Bass Pro Shops locations in Canada, and more recently has attracted many of the retail world's iconic names, including the likes of Harry Rosen and Victoria's Secret, which unveiled in Chinook Centre this year along with Tiffany's.

Both set up in Chinook Centre, but the other higher-end Calgary malls have also enjoyed success attracting first-to-Calgary tenants in the last 24 months.

There's a big-city appetite for new and different retailers in Calgary. The only obstacle in attracting them appears to be the right space.

To that end, there were a lot of major projects on the drawing board in the fall, though considerably fewer under construction. Colliers identified 298,000 square feet of retail construction going on in October, but another 8.1 million square feet planned.

Hot spots

Hot spots in the next 12 months are expected to include Sage Hill Crossing and Beacon Heights in the northwest, Seton and East Hills in the southeast, StoneGate in the northeast and Currie Barracks and Silverado in the southwest.

Seton will offer an eventual complement of one million square feet of retail near Calgary's new hospital, South Health Campus, which is expected to open in phases starting this spring and continuing on into 2013.

StoneGate Common, part of the even larger StoneGate Landing project north of Calgary International Airport and east of Deerfoot Trail, is envisioned for another 1.5 million square feet of retail and retail-related space. WAM Development Group and partner Alberta Investment Management Corp. foresee over 13 million square feet of retail, office and warehouse space in the huge project, which sits in a great location for transportation and logistics businesses looking for close proximity to southern Alberta's two busiest highways.

WAM's building efforts were focused more on its Stoney Industrial Centre project on the west side of Deerfoot in 2011, with a fourth building offering over 400,000 square feet of space nearly complete at year's end.

A WAM promotional video for StoneGate Landing may sound a little ambitious, but it will ring true if all that is planned goes ahead. Notes a smooth voice on the company's StoneGate website: "No other industrial area in Calgary will compare, not in scale, accessibility or thoroughness in planning, for the unique needs of today's industrial businesses."

The StoneGate Common project on the north side of Country Hills Boulevard hopes to capitalize on an eventual daytime workforce of 20,000 in the area.

While Calgary's prime retail space may be virtually full these days, it's not from a true building slowdown.

Quite the contrary. Alberta's largest city enjoyed a relatively strong 2011 on the building front, with the city's building-permit values up a healthy 51.4 per cent for the first 11 months of the year over 2010.

Store owners are likely hoping retail inventory doesn't drop further in their world, where renewals are often less problematic than moving in a tight Calgary market - one Beall says is influenced by the city's approach to business regulation.

"It's becoming increasingly more difficult to open and operate businesses in Calgary. That's probably the only thing that's hampering our growth right now, from a retail perspective," Beall said.

Obtaining a development permit can be difficult. The same is true of relocating.

"The change-of-use process is onerous and painful, and it's becoming increasingly difficult for all tenants," Beall said.

"Our renewal rates are very, very high typically in retail. We don't see a lot of relocations."

Residential construction through November was pushed up by a 362 per cent hike in the value of apartment/condo construction (3,257 units for 11 months of 2011 versus 882 for 2010). Commercial and industrial values jumped almost 78 per cent from a slow 2010, but were also up in the bigger picture.

"It's impressive that [2011] values are up compared to the five- and 10-year averages, especially considering the record values that have been posted in recent years," noted David Watson, the City of Calgary's general manager of planning and development.

Even without final figures in for 2011, the city was looking at 2011 as its third-best year ever for permit values.

Meanwhile, the office market has amazed analysts, with 3.7 million square feet leased in the past year, nearly five times the annual 10-year average, accordng to a study by Newmark Knight Frank Devencore.

Over the last two years, the downtown market has leased the equivalent of over three entire Bow buildings, the company found.

Housing prices

The price of a home in Calgary ended the year roughly where it started, with the Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB) pegging the cost of an average single-family home at the end of 2011 at $466,402 - a 1 per cent hike. Condo prices fell about 1 per cent in 2011 to an average of $287,172.

CREB president Sano Stante is predicting the average detached house price this year will reach $476,000 and the typical condo price will be $292,000.

The reasoning is based on an expected net migration of 20,333 people into the city and Calgary employment growing by nearly 3 per cent this year. As well, mortgage rates have been cut to the lowest level in history.

from Western Investor February 2012