There is a lot of commercial space available in Flagstaff; one might even call it a glut. That commercial real estate inventory includes both office space and potential retail locations. Simply by drawing a long rectangle on a Flagstaff map – with approximate boundaries starting downtown with North San Francisco Street, up to Columbus Avenue, down Humphreys Street to Route 66 – there are many office spaces and multiple retail spaces available for lease. This fall, Flagstaff Business News set out to investigate, to find out a little more and to learn about related factors.
“There’s quite a bit of office space available in different complexes,” said Susan Weitzman, owner/broker of Linton Real Estate. One of her specialties is in commercial real estate. She has been in the real estate business in Flagstaff since 1973. “It’s lagging behind residential. Commercial properties tend to stay vacant longer, especially in this town. I’ve got a property downtown on Leroux that has been available for lease for several years.”
Looking at other parts of Flagstaff, for example, along the west side of the North Fourth Street commercial corridor and on warehouse-studded Huntington Drive, there are many more commercial spaces available. There are office spaces for lease in the vicinity of the Flagstaff Medical Center. The Hopi-owned Kachina Square and Continental Plaza are both examples of complexes with some of Flagstaff’s many retail and related spaces for lease. These two commercial real estate properties, in addition to Heritage Square downtown, are managed for the Hopi Tribe by the Hopi Tribe Economic Development Corporation.
Weitzman says she is beginning to see a few bright signs from commercial property owners in town. “Now owners that are sitting on these properties are a) starting to have a vision or b) trying to spruce the properties up,” she said. “I do think there’s a trend for owners of commercial property to begin the improvements. Owners are more willing to accommodate small business people and offer rent abatement than in the past.”
“I question when I see the vacancies,” said John Saltonstall, business retention and expansion manager in the City of Flagstaff’s Economic Vitality Division. He added that there is not currently an inventory of commercial property vacancies but he said that an inventory would be good. “With a lot of the vacancies I see office spaces and industrial spaces. I find myself thinking big picture.”
A large part of that bigger picture for Saltonstall and the City’s Business Retention and Expansion shop is in providing up-to-date, detailed information for businesses looking to relocate to Flagstaff or for those hoping to expand their existing businesses. This small city department does market and retail analyses, trend analyses, provides demographic information, planning and design review, helps with site selection and more. “We’re a toolbox, if you will,” he said.
Saltonstall also noted that the City of Flagstaff has been a partner of a robust, information-rich online resource, Flagstaffprospector.com. “The city has participated in that program via APS to highlight non-residential offerings citywide,” said Saltonstall. “It’s a great resource.”
Another online business resource Saltonstall points out is a certified sites website, an information portal of the Arizona Commerce Authority. Using the two free-use websites, a business owner can investigate many details such as the size of a building, whether it is office space or industrial-zoned property, levels of infrastructure, Flagstaff consumer spending plus housing and labor force statistics. “I’m not a doom and gloomer,” said Saltonstall. “It’s good to get a lot of information and then make your decisions. I’m good at sleuthing out information; that’s what I do.”
Weitzman – who has owned Linton Real Estate for 20 years and took out a mortgage on her house to start the local, full-service firm – is also one of three real estate brokers in Flagstaff who has earned the hard-to-obtain CCIM designation. It stands for Certified Commercial Investment Member. She describes the process of becoming CCIM certified as an exhausting endurance test.
“It’s almost like a master’s degree in commercial real estate,” Weitzman explained. She notes that she does see activity in Flagstaff’s commercial real estate market beginning to pick up. “I’d say it’s not as dark as it was,” said Weitzman. “Buildings are not as dark as they used to be,” and she added that it helps a lot when commercial property owners have a vision for improvements for their properties and then the small business that leases space from them join and become partners in that vision.
Weitzman says there are many factors, decision points and often gut-check commitments, involved for an existing business expanding to a new commercial space or a new business entering a new commercial real estate lease. She said some commercial leases are “triple net.” That means the business owner is responsible for taxes, insurance and common-area maintenance – in addition to rent.
“Commercial taxes and utilities are higher for a commercial property,” she said. “It’s hard to start a business for people who are going into business, unless you’re franchised. There’s a breaking point. You can only afford so much before you can’t be in business anymore, before you have to go back and go to work for someone else.” FBN
For additional information visit: Flagstaffprospector.com, AZcommerce.com/programs/certified-sites and Lintonrealestate.com.
Steele Wotkyns is principal of WotkynsPRplus, a public relations firm serving clients in Flagstaff and throughout Northern Arizona.
By Steele Wotkyns
Flagstaff Business News