By JEANNETTE DESANTIS
Ventura County office and industrial properties sustained a strong level of investment in the first quarter, prompting comparisons to the real estate sales market of the 1980s.
“Investors are buying anything and everything they can get their hands on,” said Doug Shaw, an industrial property specialist with CB Commercial Real Estate Group Inc. “The market is on fire.”
Arden Realty Inc. made one of the largest office acquisitions during the first quarter with the $14 million purchase of two office buildings with a combined total of 151,000 square feet in the Camarillo Business Center. The sellers were Latten Belling Associates and Boston-based AEW Capital. The buildings are currently 82 percent occupied, according to Tom Dwyer, an associate office property specialist at CB Commercial.
The vacancy rate in the eastern part of the county was 12.5 percent in the first quarter, compared with 15.2 percent for the fourth quarter of 1997, according to CB Commercial.
“We are seeing a lot of leasing activity, nearly as much as in the 1980s,” Dwyer said. “It seems that the market is at a high point.”
The county’s overall office vacancy rate was 14.6 percent in the first quarter, down from 16.6 percent in the fourth quarter, according to CB Commercial. In the western part of the county which includes Ventura and Oxnard the office vacancy rate tightened a bit from 18.3 percent to 17.2 percent in the first quarter.
The industrial market remained competitive during the first quarter, with buyers purchasing industrial sites and land.
Significant purchases included a 140,000-square-foot building on Flynn Road in Camarillo by Eltron Computers. The building was sold by Benchmark Holdings for $7.8 million.
Some companies, in search of scarce industrial sites in the county, put their claims on buildings currently under construction.
In Oxnard, a 75,000-square-foot building under construction is already in escrow, according to Mike Walsh, associate vice president for Daum Commercial Real Estate Services. Escrow will close on the $3.8 million deal when construction is completed, he said. Walsh would not identify the prospective buyer.
“There are simply not enough buildings available for (these buyers) to move into,” Walsh said. “So they enter into escrow when you have just finished pouring the slab and close escrow when the construction is done.”
The county’s overall industrial vacancy rate shrank from 9 percent in the fourth quarter to 7.8 percent for the first quarter.
“The vacancy rate will continue to drop for the next year because property is not being developed at the same pace as properties are being occupied,” said Doug Shaw of CB Commercial. “But six months from now, we will see a reversal of that when people who have purchased properties (for development) last year begin to see their projects come into fruition.”
In the retail sector of Ventura County, the vacancy rate rose from 6.9 percent in the fourth quarter to 7.2 percent in the first quarter, according to CB Commercial.
This was primarily due to large retail developments in the West County that drove out small retail businesses that were unable to compete, according to Austin Bettar of CB Commercial.
In the city of Ventura, construction began in the first quarter on the Century 8 Theaters, with plans to double the number of theaters and add additional restaurants and stores at the Johnson Road site. Bettar said the construction should be completed late this year.
Entertainment venues were a common theme in Ventura County retail properties.
Selleck Development broke ground in the first quarter on the 136,000-square-foot Simi Valley Civic Center Plaza on Tapo Canyon Road. The entertainment center will house restaurants and retail stores, as well as a 16-screen Regal Theater, according to Bettar.
In land deals, escrow closed in the first quarter on a 30-acre parcel of land near the 118 Freeway and Madera Road in Simi Valley purchased by Rothbart Development of Santa Monica. Rothbart hopes to break ground on its 300,000-square-foot retail center by summer. The center will house Walmart, Home Depot and PetSmart, according to Bettar. That purchase price was undisclosed, he said.
Escrow also closed at the Oakbrook Plaza Shopping Center on Tierra Rejada. The 83,000-square-foot center, anchored by Albertson’s and Longs Drug Store, was sold to Pacific Retail Trust by Grand Toyko Inc. of Los Angeles for a reported $10 million. The center is 100 percent leased, according to Bettar.
“We have been in a buying frenzy this quarter, but we believe that the last wave of large entertainment venues will end in the next 18 months,” said Bettar. “With all the development, movie screens will simply become oversaturated.”