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January 27, 2012 | last updated February 1, 2012 1:57 pm

MEREDA conference highlights real estate growth

More than 650 people turned out for the Maine Real Estate & Development Association's annual forecast conference, where presenters in general highlighted improvements over 2010 and expressed cautious optimism for 2012.

More than one presenter said the worst is over for the state's overall real estate market. Office space vacancy rates in the Greater Portland area remained relatively flat in 2011, inching up only 0.3% to 12.9%, and net absorption was positive for the first time since 2008. The market also saw the highest lease transaction volume since 2006. The vacancy rate for industrial space in the Greater Portland area was a little more than 7%, with South Portland seeing the highest rate at 9.7% and Saco the lowest at 2.5%.

Retail was cited by many as the most sluggish sector, with Greater Portland insulated from the doldrums with a 6.24% vacancy rate -- half the national average. Other bright spots include Bangor, where the $130 million investment planned for Hollywood Casinos and $65 million into a new auditorium and conference center are expected to invigorate retail spending; and downtown Lewiston/Auburn, which is experiencing a renaissance.

The hospitality sector can expect very modest revenue increases in 2012 based on slightly higher prices for rooms attributable to very few new rooms coming into the market and sustained demand. More than $60 million in lodging transactions were recorded in 2011.

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