Year ‘round our cities buzz with activity. From commuters hurrying to and from their jobs, to service industries conveying everything urban centers need to thrive, few on the ground realize that just as much activity and growth occurs well above their heads. Stories above the ground, scaffolds supporting window washing to construction crews as well as building supplies and demolition debris are a sign that growth in our cities is booming, and so is its regional impact. In this article we’ll examine how our metropolises are doing, and the effect their improved economic health has on surrounding counties and their respective State.
After a sluggish first quarter, construction and building starts in 2019 began to pick up. That’s to be expected since most of the country was under a deep freeze until April. According to Dodge Data & Analytics, urban development in the non-building (public works and utilities) and non-residential construction sectors led the climb in building starts which surged 16% at the end of the first quarter, 2019. Here are some of the current major projects.
In terms of billions of dollars in construction costs, this sector peaked in 2015. However if viewed by the number of projects, it is a healthy category. In March ground was broken on the $4.4 B natural gas export terminal in Louisiana. This region was especially hard hit by hurricanes over the past decade and was not an economically stable region to begin with. Construction will not likely bring employment opportunities to the surrounding counties since the project requires highly skilled labor and staffing. However, the region should prosper via tax relief and secondary services to support plant workers, etc. once the project is completed.
Highway and Bridge
In recent years the state of our aging highways and bridges has made headlines nationwide. The top five states with the highest project allocation costs this year are: North Carolina, Pennsylvania, California, and Florida. In case anyone was wondering, the infamous border wall (don’t you dare ask ‘what wall?’) falls under this category and received $312M towards its construction.
The long-awaited Toyota-Mazda alliance will cost $1.6B and bring welcome jobs and support services opportunities to the Huntsville, AL region. Additional growth is expected through housing starts, lodging, entertainment, dining, gas stations, and other venues. Also slated for Huntsville: a $200M rocket engine manufacturing plant to be completed in 2020.
Possibly the Big Apple’s greatest revenue source is tourism. Currently the theatre district and Times Square are benefitting from a $1.1B cash influx for its redevelopment. Key to the project is the repurposing of a theatre building from Gotham’s Golden Age. The neoclassical Times Square Theatre, which stood vacant for over three decades is receiving a much-needed facelift, and total revitalization
Built in 1920, the historic structure is being converted into a 52,000 upscale retail space. Every possible historic detail that can be salvaged will be re-introduced into the space, although perhaps not in its original position nor function. These include its limestone facade, plaster ceiling dome, and a cast iron gate.
This renovation is the last in a series of Time Square theaters to be saved from demolition and repurposed by the New 42nd Street Coalition, which began the project back in 1990 and has restored six area treasures for future generations to enjoy.
Across the country, sports fans are rejoicing. Key Arena, in Seattle, is undergoing a $850M refresh that includes a new interior, and entrance. Once completed, It will be known as the New Arena at Seattle Center and will host Storm and Redhawks games as well as other sporting events and live concerts for up to 19,200 persons.
Other headline-worthy projects include Facebook’s comparatively small data center project for $750M in Virginia, and CloudHQ’s data center, also in Virginia, at $300M.
Possibly influenced by restoration, renovation, and repurposing projects in major cities, a number of non-residential site builds actually are multi-use. What we mean is that while hotel starts declined, office/hotel. office/entertainment, and office/housing complexes flourished. Two of the largest construction projects are in Atlanta and include Norfolk Southern’s new headquarters, a $700M project with $470M allocated for mixed-use development.
This metric has essentially flatlined with privately-owned housing units, and multi-family housing units posting slight declines in the number of building starts. With so many options available to homeowners, such as expansion to existing premises, it does not necessarily signal a decline in consumer interest in home ownership, Rather, realtors tell us, homeowners are improving their homes and yards with pools, outdoor kitchens, patios, decks, walkways, water features and more. So while housing starts may be down, building permits, notable for expansion, are up.
In conclusion, urban areas have always been condensed and densely populated. Therefore when commercial and residential buildings are constructed, these population-centric locales attract new businesses to support them. For every new office building there is a need for dry cleaners, parking lots, flower shops, restaurants and caterers, office supplies, HVAC mechanics, emergency plumbers, retailers including grocers, housing, etc. etc. With these construction starts, that same dynamic is evolving in regions that are less populated.
Non-residential projects in economically hard-hit regions can mean improved living conditions regardless if the local citizens work at the new plant/warehouse/office/hotel/data center or not. They can find or create jobs for themselves in support of the new enterprise. That is the long term benefit to every region when a major project is underway. Most who live in parts of the country without a major employer or with many job opportunities will gladly trade temporary construction noise and congestion for an improved quality of life. Who wouldn’t?