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Main Street Building Block

Glenn Edwards Believes the Time Is Right for His Springfield Properties
Main Street Building Block

Glenn Edwards is taking a glass-full-half outlook on prospects for commercial real estate in downtown Springfield, and especially his block.

It took Glenn Edwards a few years to put the entire block of buildings on Main Street in Springfield between Harrison Place and Court Street into his portfolio. He’s enjoyed mixed results since then, with the recession leaving ‘for lease’ signs in many windows along that stretch. And while the local market remains quite sluggish, he believes the time is right for him to fill some of those vacancies.

Glenn Edwards has his office in New York City, but he keeps close tabs on what’s happening in Springfield — and he should. After all, he owns all the buildings along the east side of Main Street between Harrison Avenue and Falcon Drive.

And for the most part, Edwards, who acquired those parcels between 2005 and 2007, likes what he’s hearing and reading about the City of Homes and especially its central business district. He’s actually pleased that the nearly vacant federal building will soon be almost full with Springfield School Department offices and other tenants (some downtown property owners were miffed that their buildings were not even given an opportunity to vie for that business).

Meanwhile, he’s encouraged by progress in Court Square, especially UMass Amherst’s decision to take one of the buildings there for one of its programs. He’s buoyed by some anecdotal evidence that the worst appears to be over for both the economy in general and the real estate market in particular, and, while he wasn’t thrilled to lose the Dennis Group as a major tenant in Harrison Place, he’s even finding something positive about that company’s relocation to the Fuller Block and the filling of that structure.

He believes all or most of the recent news bodes well for his efforts to lease up his properties, which include — in addition to Harrison Place, which has three vacant floors — what’s known as the Johnson’s Bookstore Building, Marketplace, the so-called Northwestern Mutual Building, and also 1341 and 1319-1331 Main St.

New life for the federal building and Fuller Block will add vitality to the downtown and leave two fewer options for companies that are looking to downsize, rightsize, find a better deal, or take an expansion plan off the back burner its been on since the recession hit high gear, said Edwards, noting that he believes there are many businesses in all these categories.

“As the economy improves, we fully expect Springfield to be part of the renaissance,” he told BusinessWest. “We expect to ride the next wave of real-estate activity.”

And within Edwards’ block of buildings, which together comprise around 45,000 square feet of available space in various shapes and sizes, there is “something for just about everyone,” said John Williamson, president of Williamson Commercial Properties, which is now handling leasing activities for the properties.

“We’ve have full floors in Harrison Place, including the first and second, which is some of the most visible space in downtown Springfield,” he said. “And we have a lot of other spaces with which we can be very creative.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talks at length with Edwards and Williamson about why they think they have the right places at the right time.

New Lease on Life?

Williamson joked that his new assignment with Edwards, for whom he handled the Harrison Place transaction in 2007, is essentially to “lease his way out of a job,” meaning to fill the properties in question.

As he goes about that task, he’ll face a good number of challenges, especially competition for tenants. Indeed, while some properties, like the Fuller Block and the federal building, are now effectively off the market, there are countless others in or near downtown with ‘for lease’ signs in their windows.

And, in many respects, this is still very much a tenants’ market, a phrase used repeatedly by brokers to imply that businesses that are ready and able to make moves can play those landlords with space to lease against one another and get some attractive deals.

But the biggest challenge may be that there are still not enough business owners and nonprofit managers ready to make those moves. In recent months, area brokers have used words like ‘quiet,’ ‘frozen,’ and ‘dead’ to describe the state of the local commercial real-estate market, and some have said that conditions now are even worse than during the prolonged recession of 20 years ago, when brokers could at least stay busy working for banks trying to rid themselves of properties on their OREO (other real estate owned) files.

However, the usually optimistic Edwards is seeing the picture a different way — with the glass half full, or at least approaching that level.

He said that activity has picked up in many of the markets in which he owns properties (that list includes municipalities ranging from Lynnbrook, N.Y. to Park City, Kan. to Clifton, Colo.), and that he fully expects that Springfield, home to perhaps the centerpiece of his portfolio, will eventually follow suit.

“It’s not going to be a tenants’ market forever,” he said, noting that, as bad as this downturn has been, it will be followed, like others before it, by a period when the laws of supply of demand will eventually begin to work in favor of property owners.

And he believes his block is well-positioned for the day when the pendulum starts to swing.

Granted, he has only what would be considered Class B space, or perhaps B+ in the case of Harrison Place, available to lease, but he notes that most Class A space in both the suburbs and downtown Springfield is occupied, and what isn’t — the vast majority of it is in 1350 Main St. or One Financial Plaza — is mostly being reserved for larger tenants.

So he believes this leaves opportunities for those properties across Main Street with the odd numbers, starting with Harrison Place.

Edwards acquired that landmark from the Picknelly family in late 2007, putting the entire block in his portfolio. The building was nearly full at that time, but the scene changed dramatically when Tom Dennis — who acquired the property in the late ’90s, built out the first two floors for his engineering firm, and later sold the property to the Picknellys — desired to once again own his space.

He departed for the rehabbed Fuller block in the summer of 2009, leaving one of those aforementioned ‘for lease’ signs in the front window at Harrison Place, through which countless pedestrians and motorists look every day.

That visibility, coupled with accessibility and pliable space, has attracted several tire-kickers, said Williamson, including a large law firm. He expects more tours in the weeks and months ahead as businesses look to take advantage of what is still, by and large, a tenants’ market.

The ultimate goal is to lease the first and second floors, both around 8,000 square feet, to one tenant. The best plan B is to find two full-floor tenants, he said, adding that there is flexibility for a number of other scenarios, but the preference is for larger tenants.

The same goes for the slightly smaller ninth floor, he said, adding that, overall, there is some 25,000 square feet, just over 33% of the total space, available in the building.

Moving south down what could now be called the Edwards Block, there are roughly 5,000 square feet available, or just under one-fifth of the total, in the Johnson’s Bookstore building, where Edwards and Williamson want to find more retail and office tenants to join FedEx Kinko’s, which moved in on the first floor last year.

There are nearly 6,000 square feet available (one-quarter of the inventory) at 1365 Main St., also called the Marketplace Building; all of the space, 5,298 square feet, in 1341 Main St., most recently occupied by Westfield Bank, which means it’s been vacant for some time; and just over 3,068 square feet in 1310-1331 Main, also known as the Peerless Building.

Overall, Williamson said his broad strategy for leasing up those buildings is “innovative,” and by that he means everything from imaginative lease deals that will serve both Edwards and his tenants to efforts to attract some of the many nonprofit groups operating in the Greater Springfield area, especially for the Westfield Bank building, which he believes is perfectly suited for one or, more likely, several such tenants.

“That property lends itself well to that kind of use,” he said, “and there are literally hundreds of these 501 C3s operating in this area.”

Space Exploration

When asked why he’s so bullish on the prospects for Springfield when others seem far less ebullient, Edwards says his attitude stems from seeing clear progress in several of the other markets in which he owns real estate.

“We’ve signed a number of leases over the past few months — there’s a lot of activity taking place,” he said. “We’re going to see that here, too. Tenants will be rightsizing and going from class C space to class B. Space will start to be absorbed again.”

Time will tell if — and when — he’s right about the Springfield market, but at the moment, Edwards likes what he sees. And he believes he’s well-positioned for when the turnaround begins.

George O’Brien can be reached at

[email protected]

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