Busy’s Back

Ok, I’m gonna call it: busy is definitely back. I’m teetering right on the edge of exhaling, and it won’t take much to push me into real belief. If I’m dreaming, please don’t wake me, because I like this.

As far as I can figure, the phone started ringing in earnest about sixty days ago. At first, the work was coming in as sort of a steady trickle . . . drip, drip, drip: a combination of both completely new developments and others previously left for dead. The drips have combined and become a relatively steady flow, so much that we’ve been able to bring back some of our people who were temporarily sidelined during the economic maelstrom.

Thankfully, I’m not an analyst or a prognosticator, but if I had to make an assessment of what is motivating new life for so many multifamily and mixed-use projects, I’d say it’s some combination of more money being generally available, and the impetus to get some vertical construction underway while pricing is still at depressed levels. If a meaningful quotient of the projects we’re now looking at—especially the resurrected ones—actually break ground and get rolling, this will put pressure on the pricing, and the window will gradually creak closed. So this current environment is going to work out well for the first teams to make the leap.

Another factor may be the subtle recovery of apartment fundamentals. In what must definitely be a characteristic of “the new normal,” improvement in this case is defined as a leveling off or cessation of the decline in rents and occupancies. This encouragement, however modest, may be enough to ignite a latent intention to build already brought near the flash point by the “available money/construction sale” scenario described above. Whichever it is, I’ll take it.

Finally, it is encouraging to witness the amount of “possibility thinking” I see going on right now. We have re-visited many projects, which have that “designed at the peak of a bubble” flavor—just a little too much with inflated optimism—that are now seeking an obtainable paradigm. Some are attempting to push the constricting envelope of building and fire codes to get just a little more into package that works with a less dense construction type. In other words, I’m seeing a new enthusiasm, albeit need-driven, to imagine a better mousetrap.

What a joy to be in the last half of 2010, a year I’m sure we’ll all be glad to have behind us. Meanwhile, time to pop another Red Bull and get back to the drawing board.

(Daniel Gehman is principal at Thomas Cox Architects. He can be reached at DanielG@tca-arch.com)