[caption id="attachment_50700" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="Garrick Brown"][/caption]
NORTH BAY -- Shopping centers in Marin and Napa counties have very little available space overall, moving rents higher. Larger-population Sonoma and Solano counties have vacancy rates two to four times as high, but the markets are expected to stabilize.
Marin County center vacancy was just 3.1 percent at year-end. That's down from 4.0 percent in the third quarter and late 2010, reflecting net occupancy gains of 59,000 square feet in the fourth quarter and 52,000 all year.
Marin vacancy is so low it threatens growth. Larger tenants have few premium options. By now, developers would have been back in action. A number of planned projects are set to start construction in months ahead, but no major new retail centers were under construction in the Bay Area last year. So in 2012, expect vacancy to tighten further and rents to climb quickly.
In the Bay Area, grocers and discounters were among the most active lessees in 2011. That didn’t play out in Marin, thanks to few options for these larger users. Health clubs, banks and salons have been active, but the most active smaller space users, by far, have been restaurant chains -- particularly fast-food and fast-casual concepts.
Neighborhood and community center vacancy in Marin fell 34,000 square feet in 2011 to 5.1 percent. The recent average triple-net annual asking rent of $22.66 per square foot masks a range from $12 to $36, with first-tier centers at the top.
Vacancy at unanchored strip centers, still the most challenged property type, decreased 19,000 square feet to 2.3 percent. There's still little demand from mom-and-pop retailers, a bread-and-butter tenant for such centers.
Regional and power center vacancy was a scant 0.8 percent last year, with just about 17,000 square feet available. Vacancy and space absorption didn't change in 2011, but asking rent increased 5 percent to $37.05 per square foot.
Pricing for even Marin's weakest offerings will stabilize in 2012, and rent growth will accelerate in the face of such low vacancy rates.
Napa Valley center vacancy decreased over six consecutive quarters to an extremely low 2.8 percent in the third quarter then up to 3.1 percent at year-end. Occupancy grew by nearly 56,000 square feet last year, besting the 51,000 square feet absorbed in 2010 and much improved from 100,000 net square feet vacated in 2008 and 2009.
Like in Marin, Napa County centers have reached growth-threatening low vacancy. There were just more than 18,000 square feet of center construction under way at year end at Napa Crossing in American Canyon. At Napa Century Center in south Napa, 43,000 square feet are set to be under way by the second quarter.
Because all but about 3,000 square feet of this new space is already preleased, neither project will significantly impact extremely limited availability. Meanwhile, retail demand ticks up. So, vacancy will tighten further in 2012, and rents will climb quickly.
For like reasons as in Marin, grocers and discounters didn't dominate Napa Valley. Active lessees have been health clubs, banks, salons and restaurants.
Neighborhood and community center vacancy in 2011 fell by 27,000 square feet to 3.4 percent, and average asking rent soared 12 percent to $28.03. Unanchored strip center vacancy slipped by 12,000 square feet to 15.4 percent, and rent only recently began to stabilize at $21.07, up from $16 to $18 for most of 2011, but 9 percent below $23.27 of late 2010.