In Indianapolis, the technology giant Salesforce is paring back a quarter of its office space in the tallest building in Indiana, where it has been a key tenant for the past six years. In Atlanta, the private investment giant Starwood Capital defaulted on a $212 million mortgage on a 29-story office tower. And in Baltimore, a landmark building sold for $24 million last month, roughly $42 million less than it fetched in 2015.
All across the country, downtowns, office spaces and shopping centers are at risk of becoming ground zero for a new economic hazard: the urban doom loop. The fear is that a commercial real estate apocalypse could spiral out and slow commerce, wrecking local tax revenue in the process. Ever since the pandemic drove a boom in remote work, hubs such as New York and San Francisco have drawn attention for their empty offices in previously bustling skyscrapers. But many economists are even more worried about midsize cities that have fewer ways to offset the blow when a major company slashes office space, the sale price of a building craters, or a downtown turns into a ghost town.
The worst-case scenario would go like this: With more people working from home, companies from Milwaukee to Memphis are rethinking their leases or pulling out of them altogether. That drives vacancy rates up and makes it harder for landlords to attract new tenants or sell buildings for a healthy price. [Continue reading…]