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Tampa Bay’s commercial real estate professionals keep working on deals in the face of coronavirus

In the face of the coronavirus outbreak, Britney Mroczkowski is handling most of her work as BTI Partners’ vice president of real estate from home. But she still visits BTI’s big project in the Tampa Bay area, Westshore Marina District, to watch the construction progress and sometimes post videos on Instagram.

“I do go to the site once a day to check in on things and keep my distance from everyone,” she said. “I’ve been trying to take advantage of using social media more and trying to promote that we are still busy.”

All sectors of commercial real estate in Tampa Bay have been performing well for several years, with vacancies down, rents climbing and new development underway. So far, the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t slowed that momentum, professionals say — though it’s still early days.

Feldman Equities, which owns office properties throughout Tampa Bay, has signed leases since the pandemic began, CEO Larry Feldman said. Those were underway well before the current crisis, but Feldman said active negotiations continue for other deals.

Office leases, Feldman points out, have been signed virtually for years. In many cases, he’ll spend 50 hours working on a closing with an attorney he’s never actually met.

“If this happened in 1990, you would have a Great Depression, because there would be no way to transact business at all,” he said.

The people part of the real estate business — the relationship building that is Feldman’s favorite — is the most challenged.

“That is something that we as a company culture thrive on,” he said. “We’ve had a policy for years to take a broker out to lunch every week, and it is suffering.”

Truett Gardner, a land use attorney in Tampa, said he too misses the in-person interaction his work usually entails.

“That’s probably the hardest part for me is that I like human interaction so much,” he said. “I find these conference calls and Zoom calls exhausting.”

Other than that, though, he said it’s been mostly business as usual, as his firm, Gardner Brewer Martinez-Monfort, has long allowed remote work.

“I’ve been really surprised at how many deals that are still going,” he said. “A couple have hit pause, but for the most part, including some hotel deals, they’re moving forward.”

At Gensler, a global architecture firm with an office in Tampa, there’s also been little interruption, said Noah Rollins, senior associate. All 6,000 Gensler employees around the world are working from home.

“We understand and are fully prepared should some projects need to be put on hold due to city limits on construction and client decisions,” Rollins wrote in an email. “But we are in close contact with our clients regarding these decisions and have discussed construction on a case-by-case basis.

“The city of Tampa and other jurisdictions have done a great job reacting in these unusual times, being very responsive by phone and email, and establishing alternative methods to keep projects on a forward trajectory. While this is a very serious health matter currently, the construction industry has a history of strength and resilience.”