A group led by global investment firm Oak Hill Advisors has invested $326.5 million into office and industrial landlord Workspace Property Trust of Horsham in a bet that changing work patterns due to the pandemic will help suburban real estate regain some ground against the city.
Glenn August, founder and chief executive of Oak Hill, said in a release Tuesday that Workspace was “in a terrific position to ... satisfy the demand for affordable, accessible suburban office space.” Oak Hill will partner with Workspace as the Pennsylvania landlord “considers acquisitions and additional investments,” the companies said.
Workspace, led by Thomas Rizk, a former Mack-Cali Realty Corp. chief executive, built its 10 million-square-foot portfolio of suburban office and light-industrial space through two large purchases from Liberty Property Trust. Liberty has since been acquired by competitor Prologis.
Workspace’s properties include the 41-building Pennsylvania Business Campus in Horsham and most of the Great Valley Corporate Center in Chester County, in addition to other assets in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida and Minnesota.
Tenants include Thomas Jefferson University’s College of Nursing and American Additive Manufacturing, a 3D printing service.
In November 2017, Workspace indefinitely postponed a plan to publicly list shares on the New York Stock Exchange, citing “current market conditions,” which suggested scant investor interest in the company’s portfolio of suburban real estate.
Since then, vacancy rates have surged in the Philadelphia suburbs where Workspace has most of its properties, rising in the Horsham and Willow Grove area to 21% during the three months ended June 2021, up from from 15% during the three months ended December 2017, according to data from commercial real estate firm Colliers International.
In the Malvern, Exton and West Chester area, vacancy rates more than doubled to 15% from 6% during that time.
Office vacancy rates in Center City and University City, by comparison, rose to only 12%, up from 10%, over that period.
Vacancy rates in all three markets started ticking up in early 2020 as COVID-19 took hold.
Still, Oak Hill and Workspace said in their release that suburban offices have been one of the best-performing property sectors in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This investment comes at a critical inflection point,” said Roger Thomas, Workspace’s co-founder and president. “As we look ahead into a recovering economy, we see tremendous runway for the business.”
Rosemary Penny, the Philadelphia region’s research director for commercial real estate company Colliers International, said the strongest demand in the Southeastern Pennsylvania suburbs where Workspace owns property has been for warehouse space, and for life-science research and production labs.
The company has a good opportunity to capitalize on its location by revamping its holdings to meet that demand, Penny said.
“Those markets have a lot of vacancy now, but they may end up doing better,” she said.