Writer: Sara Warden
2 min read OCTOBER 2019 —
Philadelphia’s population growth has lagged other large metro areas in the last few years, according to data from JLL and ULI. From 2010 to 2016, the region experienced a modest 2.1% population expansion and between 2010 to 2017, economic expansion was 12.3%, below the 15.1% experienced nationally.
This means that when the Opportunity Zones (OZs) were announced in the 2017 Federal Tax reform package, Philadelphia businesses welcomed them with open arms. “We have seen significant demand from Philadelphia’s real estate industry,” said Paul Dougherty, Philadelphia partner-in-charge at EisnerAmper LLP. “Part of that demand has to do with the interest around the Opportunity Zones created under the tax reform.”
OZs are a mechanism through which developers can defer tax payments through reinvestment of capital gains, for a maximum tax burden reduction of 15%, among other benefits. The program was designed to incentivize development in slower-growth regions. Philadelphia is now home to 82 OZs and the private sector has wasted no time tapping into them.
“The new federal Opportunity Zones will be interesting, and we hope to see some growth in the market from those. There are some very strategic areas in Philadelphia, like the corridor leading up Broad Street toward Temple. It’ll be exciting to see what happens in those areas,” said Tim Pulte, senior executive vice president of Colliers International.
In Brewerytown alone, several developments have sprung up, including the $42 million conversion of the F.A. Poth Brewing Company building at 31st and Jefferson Streets. The $10 million investment made by Off Road Capital Management will create 128 apartments and 25,000 square feet of commercial real estate. At 2120 E. York St., north of Frankford Avenue in Kensington, developer Civetta Property Group will use $8 million in equity from a fund under PNC Financial Services Group to build a five-story, 56-unit apartment building. And developer Mosaic Development Partners has chosen a former medical supply factory on Wayne Avenue, north of Berkley Street in Germantown, to convert into a 39-unit mixed-use development with a $7.5 million investment.
With these kinds of investments made in such a small area over such a short period, it is easy to see how capital expenditures could reach the $100 billion goal touted by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. But as OZs attract buzz, some have suggested the initiative may fall short of expectations without the right participation.
However, for Ben Connors, President of the General Building Contractors Association (GBCA), there is no downside to the program. “Opportunity Zones are going to have either a positive impact or a minimal impact. They are certainly not negative,” he said. “These zones stand to be another tool to extend economic development. Some of the Opportunity Zones that have been selected in this region are prime for development, assuming that the funds are prepared to take advantage. What is unknown is the scale.”
It is not only developers that have seen the benefits these zones can bring. Companies providing auxiliary services aligned with the real estate industry have been able to tap into the new OZ reality. One of these companies is real estate information firm CoStar, which identified numerous companies looking for ways to better search properties for Opportunity Zone investments.
In response, this year the company added Opportunity Zone overlays onto its property mapping functions. “With this new functionality, our subscribers can set alerts that notify them anytime a commercial property comes up for sale in an Opportunity Zone they are interested in,” Adrian Ponsen, the company’s director of market analytics, told Invest:. “They can also search for off-market Opportunity Zone properties that have the nearby demographic criteria and lot sizes they need to be viable candidates for redevelopment.”
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