Tag Archives: Building Materials

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3 venues shaping the future of sporting events

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Every sports season brings a new set of hopes for fans. While many are optimistic their team will make the playoffs or win a championship, others in some areas are looking forward to gaining a new team or venue in their town.

From a fan experience perspective, outdoor viewing parties near stadiums have become popular in recent years, and arenas are continuing to progress much further than one could have ever expected. With promises of holograms and gondolas, let’s take a look at the current pulse of sports venue modernizations.

Seattle’s “new” KeyArena

I’ve followed the Seattle arena news for a while, from discussions of renovations through to the $660 million deal signed to proceed with the upgrades. Since then, the NHL has announced that Seattle will be home to the league’s 32nd team, rounding out the 16-team Western Conference. Original projections saw the arena re-opening in 2020, but this date has been pushed to spring 2021.

Seattle news channel KING-TV recently looked at the work being done. Project executive Shaun Mason shared that the project was “not a renovation” from the arena that started operations in 1995. Current plans for the arena include digging down 15 feet, and “down and out in four directions.” This will help preserve the building’s iconic roof, but double the size of the current arena.

The arena’s cost has grown to $850 million, as its design continues to evolve. Seattle executives plan to keep the public updated with frequent presentations on its status — the next one will take place in April.

Gondolas to the ballgame? It may happen in Oakland. (Image credit: Bjarke Ingels Group/Dezeen)

Oakland’s proposed baseball stadium

With its proximity to Silicon Valley, it’s not surprising that the Oakland Athletics’ proposed new stadium is getting quite the flurry of technological advances. The new stadium is planned along a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) line, near Howard Terminal in Jack London Square. This is where plans get a little futuristic.

Last month, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) unveiled a possible cable-car system that will transport fans from the Oakland city center to the new ballpark. Outdoor stations could anchor wire cables to carry the gondolas, moving 6,000 people per hour, directly to the ballpark. Given that Oakland’s roads are already congested, this will help alleviate traffic on game days.

Updates for the stadium itself include a better view of the nearby waterfront, a grassy park on the roof, and standing room for 10,000 fans — to name a few highlights. Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval says the project intends to create “broader economic, environmental, and community benefits for the people of Oakland.” For a team that was almost bankrupt, the future looks bright.

The new Tottenham Hotspur stadium will also host at least two NFL games per season. (Image credit: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Opening on April 3 after more than six months of delays, Tottenham’s new stadium rings in at a whopping $1.4 billion, and is without a doubt the most innovative sports venue currently in existence. It will feature heated seats with built-in USB ports, but that’s not all. A “sky walk” will allow fans to walk across the roof of the stadium while taking in the soccer (or American football) match below.

Those who appreciate fine dining will be excited to hear that the stadium will house a Michelin-starred restaurant, a fromagerie, and a microbrewery that can pour 10,000 pints per minute.

CTV News notes that on a global scale, teams are in an “arms race” to create a unique yet technology-influenced experience for fans. They note that millennials might not be attending as many sporting events as their parents, but for a demographic that values experiences, these high-tech stadiums could be a way to get them through the gates.

Who’s next?

For every team that gains a new team and/or stadium, there are many more that remain trapped in development phases, or are turned away. Currently, there are two Canadian markets that are in a holding pattern.

For Calgary, a replacement or the upgrading of the Scotiabank Saddledome, home of the NHL’s Calgary Flames, has long been a political issue, as the team and the city have been unable to agree on which party should fund the project. It also figured heavily in the 2017 mayoral election, and it appears that a decision has yet to be made.

City councilors are hoping for transparency in the process, and have stated that the arena cannot come to fruition overnight. Additionally, CBC News recently announced that arena talks are not expected to start any time soon, although city council recently approved a negotiating strategy for a possible funding deal. Lots of “maybes” continue to haunt the project.

Ottawa Senators fans have been through a four-year process, hoping for a new arena at LeBreton Flats to come to fruition. Earlier this month, the plans fell through, with the declaration that instead of creating a new district, chunks of land would be sold off individually for development.

Within days, those plans changed, with the Ottawa Board of Trade asking the National Capital Commission to partner with Devcore Canderel DLS in order to develop the LeBreton Flats project with a “grand vision.” With reports changing daily on the project, and Senators owner Eugene Melnyk unable to reach an agreement, time will tell if an arrangement will eventually be reached.

Technology has certainly allowed developers to expand their offerings with modern building design. Going forward, the fan experience will be more important than ever before.

As teams look to create experiences beyond the watching of games, stadiums and arenas will be forced to continue to adapt. For Seattle, Oakland, and North London, this is only the beginning. As more arenas find themselves in a position to renovate or re-build, these futuristic advances may seem quite simple — we’ve yet to discover all of the possibilities.

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Sint Maarten traffic bouncing back after hurricanes, but finances are precarious

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The Caribbean island airport at Sint Maarten, popular for its low-flying aircraft over the neighboring beach, is slowly returning to normalcy following devastation from hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, with more routes returning. However, a tricky financial situation is putting further pressure on operations.

The two hurricanes wiped out much of the infrastructure on the twin-nation island, with Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) seeing its terminal out of action for months and the airfield in disarray.

When flights tentatively resumed, passengers were forced to use tents as temporary arrivals and departures zones, and many of the airport’s regular airlines suspended flights for a number of months.

While the terminal building, which could handle the largest passenger jets, remains out of action the airport has rebounded somewhat with a good proportion of its pre-hurricane destination list flying once again.

Alongside regular operators Air France, American Airlines, Caribbean Airlines, Corsair, KLM and United Airlines, JetBlue has resumed service to Fort Lauderdale and New York over the past month.

Image credit: Princess Juliana International Airport

On March 14, Canadian carrier Sunwing became the latest to resume operations, with tourists receiving bags of goodies as a mark of appreciation by the island as they disembarked the aircraft.

Following the arrival, Tourism Minister Stuart Johnson said, “Our tourism product will evolve as it grows and our goal is to make it more sustainable. It will take some time, but the intention is to continue working to bring airlifts back to pre-Irma numbers and attract even more airlines.”

Airport CEO Brian Mingo reported a few days earlier that the passenger terminal’s new three-layered roof will be completed in April, with traffic levels this year showing projected growth to 65 percent of pre-Irma levels in February.

However, on the back of such catastrophe the airport has been left in a fragile financial situation. The cost of repairing and rebuilding infrastructure like the terminal will cost the airport “over US$100 million” according to Mingo, with funding offers from the European Investment Bank and World Bank in the process of being secured.

Earlier this month the Dutch government agreed to send an immediate bridging loan of $5 million to the St. Maarten government to help PJIA avoid insolvency in the short term. This will be followed by an additional US$10 million loan in due course.

With these funds the airport will be able to continue operations which could, according to sources, have been suspended within a week otherwise.

In an official statement, Mingo commented: “What we need immediately is a $15 million bridge loan that has been allocated by the Netherlands, so that we can meet our immediate liquidity needs and support the cash shortfall, and then a final decision on financing to that. The works can then begin on the reconstruction plans within three weeks and start of construction by July 2019.”

“If all goes as planned and urgent action is taken now, we will be celebrating the re-opening of our reconstructed airport terminal by Christmas 2020.”

The addition of more routes and the passengers will also help the airport return to a sounder footing. Each seat sold includes a portion of the fare and departure tax, totaling around $40 allocated to the rebuilding works. With 65,000 extra seats provided by JetBlue’s new services alone, this should provide a significant help in returning to solvency.

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Credit this: Big banks step up loan approvals to small business owners

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Big banks, those with assets of $10 billion or more, are feeling the love for small businesses. Loan approval rates with large banks rose to 27.2 percent in February 2019 versus 27 percent in January, according to the Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index.

“Overall, the cost of capital is relatively low,” said Biz2Credit CEO Rohit Arora, in a statement. “Small businesses are looking to secure funding, and for many companies, recent financial performances have made them creditworthy borrowers.” Biz2Credit’s monthly research comes from over 1,000 small business credit applications on the firm’s online lending platform.

“It is great news that small business loans from large banks are up,” Frank Knapp, head of the South Carolina Small Business Council, told MultiBriefs in an email interview. “For years it has been the community banks that have fueled entrepreneurship.”

Securing loans for women-owned businesses remains a work in progress. In 2018, women-owned firms with one to five employees borrowed an average of $48,000 versus $70,000 for male-owned businesses of the same size, Ramit Arora, co-owner of Biz2Credit, told MultiBriefs in a phone interview. As the ranks of women entrepreneurs grows, he expects the borrowing gender gap to shrink.

“The most common type of funding provided to these companies was working capital for business expansion,” according to Rohit Arora of Biz2Credit.

The National Association of Women Business Owners declined a request to comment for this story.

The Biz2Credit’s 2018 data analysis of small business borrowing comes from 30,000 companies across the nation in more than 20 industries, from construction to healthcare, hospitality, professional services and retail.

According to the new Biz2Credit data analysis, small banks’ (less than $10 billion in assets) approvals of small business loan applications dropped to 48.6 percent in February from 49.8 percent in January. Other lending institutions’ approval rates for small business dipped slightly in February.

Alternative lenders’ rates of approval for small business loans dropped from January’s 57.3 percent to 57.2 percent in February. Credit unions loan approval rates declined from 40.3 percent in January to 40.2 percent of applications in February.

It is plausible that such slight decreases in borrowing activity are the result in part of Uncle Sam’s 35-day shutdown. That shuttered the U.S. Small Business Administration for most of January.

Loan demand matters. “There is still a huge need for small business loans, especially for entrepreneurs just starting out and not having the personal equity financial institutions of all sizes are demanding,” Knapp said.

There are signs that the end might be near for the economic expansion begun in mid-2009. International shipper FedEx, for example, reported that a drop in world trade in part spurred lower-than-expected year-over-year third-quarter results. As a result, the company forecasts weaker 2019 profits.

We turn to macroeconomic policy, a big factor for small businesses and the employees they hire, that the Federal Reserve Bank delivers.

“What’s happened in the last 90 or so days is that we’ve seen increasing evidence of the global economy slowing down,” said Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell in a March 9 interview on 60 Minutes. Case in point is Uncle Sam’s February job report of 20,000 new hires versus 311,000 in January.

Do not panic just yet, though. “One month does not make a trend,” according to Elise Gould, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

Context matters. Job growth averaged 186,000 over the past three months.

“We’re going to wait and see how those conditions evolve before we make any changes to our interest-rate policy,” according to Powell. And indeed, on March 20, the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee announced it would be keeping interest rates the same.

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Remodelers expect healthy gains, forecasters project modest growth

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Will 2019 be another busy year for remodelers, or will demand begin to taper off? Data from recent industry studies provide somewhat contrasting views, with remodelers expressing confidence about their business prospects and industry economists foreseeing much more modest growth for the year.

One point on which they both agree is that market and demographic trends will sustain positive demand for remodeling services for several years to come.

Heading into 2019, remodelers who took part in the Houzz Q1 Renovation Barometer were adjusting their sights downward as activity slowed during the latter part of the fourth quarter of 2018. However, those participating in the Houzz 2019 State of the Industry Report were generally much more optimistic.

Nearly 8 in 10 remodelers (78 percent) said they expected 2019 to be “Good” or “Very Good” for business. Nearly three quarters of respondents (71 percent) expected to gain more revenue in 2019, and nearly two thirds (63 percent) expected higher profits. As a group, remodelers anticipated revenue growth at around 8.7 percent over last year (down from 10.5 percent in 2018), with some firms projecting revenue growth as high as 11 percent.

Those figures are considerably higher than what industry economists are projecting for the year. According to MetroStudy’s latest forecast, released with the results of its Q4 2018 Residential Remodeling Index (RRI), 2019 and 2020 are expected to see slower growth rates compared to the last few years of booming business. MetroStudy forecasts positive growth in the 379 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) it covers, at an average rate of 3 percent.

Along similar lines, the most recent Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA) from the the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University (JCHS) projected gains in renovation and repair spending to owner-occupied homes in the U.S. will shrink from 7.5 percent in 2018 to 5.1 percent in 2019. (The LIRA includes all costs of homeowner improvements and repairs, not just remodeling services.)

Abbe Will, associate project director in the JCHS Remodeling Futures Program, stated, “After several years of stronger-than-average increases, the pace of growth in remodeling activity is expected to fall back to the market’s historical average annual gain of 5.2 percent.”

At a press conference held during this year’s International Builders Show (IBS), representatives from the National Association of Home Builders predicted that remodeling spending for owner-occupied single-family homes will increase a modest 1.6 percent in 2019 and another 1.1 percent in 2020. Nonetheless, 2018 NAHB Remodelers Chair Joanne Theunissen reassured those in attendance, “Remodeler confidence continues to remain at a high level.”

That confidence appears to be well-founded. At present, every indication points to continued positive growth for the industry. A newly released report from JCHS, Improving America’s Housing 2019, concludes, “Over the next decade, the strong preference of older homeowners to age in place and the increasing difficulty of building affordable housing in many markets will continue to hinder the construction of new homes. The remodeling industry will therefore retain its critical role in helping the country meet its housing needs.”

Mark Boud, chief economist at MetroStudy, expressed a similar outlook. “Rising mortgage rates over the next few years will continue to dampen home sales, but will also persuade more Americans to stay-put in their current homes and renovate there,” says Boud. “An aging housing stock exacerbated by low levels of new home construction are additional factors that we believe will allow the remodeling cycle to extend into ‘extra’ innings.”

Both the remodelers who participated in the Houzz study and the NAHB panelists at IBS acknowledged that shortages of skilled labor and rising costs of labor and materials presented challenges for the industry that could contribute to somewhat slower revenue growth or lower profits. Whatever the final growth figures turn out to be, remodelers can find some solace knowing the long view is trending in their favor.

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Does DIY harm interior designers?

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There’s plenty of good news in the 2019 Houzz State of the Industry report. Among all the statistics provided in the report, though, one data point in particular caught my eye. When asked about their business challenges in 2018, 21 percent of interior designers — far more than any other group of professionals — cited “Increased popularity of DIY.”

In fact, it tied for No. 4 among a list of 14 possible business challenges. That made me wonder, are interior designers disproportionately disadvantaged by DIY consumers?

Although demand for interior design services declined in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to the American Society of Interior Designers, with residential designers reporting billings well below positive territory, designers in the Houzz study estimated annual revenue growth of between 8 and 13 percent.

Nearly 8 in 10 interior designers said they expect 2019 to be a “Good” or “Very Good” year for business. As in previous years, designers were the most optimistic about their projected revenue growth (9.4 percent on average), with 74 percent anticipating increased revenues and 70 percent expecting increased profit over 2018. Given the overall positive outlook, where does the threat of DIY figure into this picture?

At it happens, around the same time the Houzz report came out, the National Association of Realtors released its 2019 Remodeling Impact Report: DIY. The study found 53 percent of all home projects involved hiring a professional (the same as in 2017 and up from 48 percent in 2015). Even more to the point for interior designers, 41 percent of respondents said they preferred to hire a professional when the result they desired was better functionality or livability.

These figures correlate with the U.S. Census Bureau’s data from the biennial American Housing Survey. In 2013, 2015 and 2017 more than half of all major remodeling projects undertaken by homeowners involved hiring a professional. In addition, the value of those projects was twice or more than the value reported by those who chose to do the project themselves.

More in-depth studies on the remodeling market conducted by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University (JCHS) found that DIY spending on discretionary home improvement projects did indeed increase following the recession that began in 2008. However, these studies also found that younger and less-affluent homeowners were more likely to undertake DIY projects; that older homeowners and owners with older homes tend to spend more and hire professionals more often; and that the top five percent of spenders accounted for between one-third and one-half of all annual spending on discretionary remodeling projects.

Another interesting finding of the JCHS studies is that, despite fluctuations in the economy and home prices, annual homeowner spending on home improvement as a share of home value has remained more or less stable over the years, averaging just over 1 percent.

Results from Houzz’s various kitchen, bath and home renovation studies from 2016 to 2019 display a similar pattern. For kitchen and bath renovations, use of interior designers has consistently remained in the 11 to 14 percent range and in the home studies, which involve a greater number of project types both interior and exterior, at 7 to 8 percent.

Whether for financial reasons or because they prefer it, some homeowners do choose to undertake larger remodeling projects themselves. In the main, though, surveys of DIY projects, such as that recently conducted by home improvement referral service Porch.com, find that they tend to be simpler tasks, such as painting, wallpapering, replacing lighting or fixtures, or doing basic home repairs.

A recent survey by pro referral service ImproveNet found that 63 percent of participants who undertook at least one DIY project in November 2018 regretted not involving a professional. More than half (55 percent) said the finished result did not look good, and one fourth (24 percent) said it did not function well.

These findings suggest that DIY is not taking business away from most interior designers. Without question, more and more clients or prospective clients are choosing to do all or some of their own purchasing and may have their own ideas about how they think the design should look.

Designers who have not adapted their business model to accommodate these changes will likely experience a decrease in business and revenues. But there appear to be plenty of potential clients who need a designer’s help for other reasons.

It’s interesting that the same percentage of designers who said the popularity of DIY was a business concern also cited “Difficulty finding prospective customers.” Perhaps more to the point are the two top business concerns designers indicated: “Managing consumer concerns about costs” (38 percent) and “Managing consumer expectations” (39 percent). Having and communicating the right value proposition to today’s consumers would appear to be the key to gaining their business.

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Housing America part 4: The ambiguous role of design

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For part one of this series, click here. For part two, click here. For part three, click here.

One architect I heard speak at an event last year described those working in her profession as “agents of expensiveness.” It can certainly seem that way, with the pages of most architectural magazines filled with sumptuous private villas or statement skyscraper designed by “starchitect” studios.

One sector that doesn’t come to mind when we think of architectural flair is that of public housing. There certainly has not been much cash to flash about recently. But it has not always been that way, and some are making steps to raise our expectations of the design of affordable and public housing.

Can design really save the day? Or are the deep-rooted problems underlying the U.S. housing crisis beyond the reach of design saviors?

The postwar years: architectural experimentation for the masses

The architects of many postwar housing schemes were are the forefront of experimenting with form, largely along modernist lines. In the U.K., the architecture department of the London County Council were at the forefront of one of the most innovative periods of design in the century.

Postwar architects in Milan responded to the housing shortage with bold designs littered with motifs drawn from Roman amphitheaters— it is difficult to square that with the level of thought that goes into affordable housing today.

However, not all of the innovation resulted in high-rises and “streets in the sky” like Minoru Yamaski’s infamous Pruitt-Igoe towers or Le Corbusier’s “Unites d’habitation.” Celebrated British architect Neave Brown brought a similarly visionary approach to more ‘human-scale’ low-rise housing in London complexes like the Alexandra Road Estate.

These architects were designing accessible utopias. Despite the problems caused by lack of maintenance and design flaws discovered since, at the core of the experiment was a belief that public housing tenants deserved the same (or better) standards of design as those on the private market. However, from the 1970s, a growing sense crept in that affordable housing does not deserve the highest standards of design as that priced for the highest bidder.

Welcoming a new generation of ‘social justice architects’

It appears that, gradually, the attention of young and cutting-edge architects is turning again to public housing. This is driven by a turn to “social justice” architecture. In Vancouver, Henriquez Partners Architects goes so far as to claim that “architecture should be a poetic expression of social justice,” and housing is a part of this new drive. The convener of a recent exhibition on social housing in London detects a confidence and design ambition not seen since the 1970s.

The new generation of social housing architects are perhaps more modest than their forebearers — creating more sensitive buildings that have flashes of character but largely concerned with subtle issues of massing and scale rather than statement pieces of the postwar era. They tend to draw on traditional street patterns and shared spaces as a setting and speaking more to the neighborhood that surrounds them. Although the biophilic aspirations of Stefano Boeri’s Trudo Vertical Forest in Eindhoven, and a texturally cladded project in the French town of Chalon-sur-Saône perhaps buck the trend.

British architect and social housing advocate Paul Karakusevic has attempted in his firm’s projects to combine modernist and suburban aesthetics to create designs that are both places people want to live (rather than lofty experiments) and suitable for the realities of today’s cities.

There has also been a concern with so-called “tenure-blind” housing — public or low-income housing should not look like public housing, but merely like housing.

So how is the U.S. faring? There is certainly much less appetite for direct delivery of housing in American cities, and the task is often left to private developers. However steps are being made to be more demanding of those developers. The prospect of Kanye West being left to revolutionize social housing design as a spinoff of his fashion label is somewhat disquieting. But the vision of David Baker for a West Africa-inspired affordable housing complex for the elderly in San Francisco is more heartening.

Setting high standards

Neave Browne argued that to reinject dignity into public housing, governments need to take inspiration from the Parker-Morris standards of 1960s U.K. — “Houses for Today and Tomorrow” not only raised space standards but allowed greater flexibility to experiment with design.

On a policy level, newly released New York Design Guidance — produced in collaboration with the Fine Arts Federation and the American Institute of Architects — is a modern-day attempt in the U.S. Given a different context for state financing, this guidance is designed as a framework to keep private developers in line, but is designed to provide a step change in expectations of affordable housing.

The limits of good design

The delicately Photoshopped visions of this new era of experimentation are certainly cheering. But I remain concerned that too much is loaded onto the (important but supporting) role of good design in providing decent housing for all.

Design has been blamed for everything that has gone wrong with the previous generation of experimental housing projects — however, in London, flats in modernist estates are now increasingly popular as an option for private buyers, suggesting that their design cannot be so bad as some suggest. Ben Austen, author of a book on Chicago’s Cabrini-Green complex agrees that too much is blamed on bad architecture — the much-cited sins of the super block and “indefensible space.”

Similarly, setting higher standards for design today is only one step toward solving a housing crisis that was born of systematic wealth inequalities exacerbated by housing, the racially charged ghettoization of concentrated areas of poverty, the collapse of the idea of publicly funded and managed housing stock, and complex dynamics of gentrification and displacement in many U.S. cities.

Can design save housing?

The U.K.’s late Neave Brown spoke in an interview of how “my generation, going into architecture after the war, felt we were going to make a new England. … We were trying literally to create a more egalitarian society.” If we can ever say that the time has come for that sort of spirit to emerge again, it is now, and it is possible that architects have a role.

But can design save the world? I, for one, think not. Instead it is political will, and the flow of funding through the system, that truly determines decent housing. Without this, all the creative young architects in the world will cannot rescue a country from a housing crisis.

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Large new logistics center to boost San Bernardino’s cargo capabilities

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One of California’s most successful cargo airports is set to benefit from major development and investment to further cement its position as one of Southern California’s primary freight centers.

The Eastgate Air Cargo Logistics Center will be built on 101 acres of vacant land at San Bernardino International Airport, with plans for a 658,000-square-foot distribution center and parking for up to 16 aircraft outside.

Last year, Mark Gibbs, director of aviation at the airport, said, “There’s tremendous opportunity here for air cargo and logistics companies to realize significant efficiencies and lower expansion costs.” It seems this has now come true.

Developed by Hillwood Enterprises LP, it is hoped that the new center would see a 24-hour operation and create almost 4,000 jobs. As a result, the airport could see an additional 12 daily freighter flights, which would increase to 26 by 2024.

San Bernardino started life as Norton Air Base and emerged as a civilian airport in 1994 following the base’s closure. While it initially had hopes of attracting passenger flights, and the site still includes an immaculate, unused passenger terminal, it was the introduction of cargo facilities and flights which cemented its specialized role among the region’s airports.

Its success in developing its cargo business is owed largely to its location. Only 60 miles from Los Angeles, and linked to a multimodal transport corridor, operators have found it to be the ideal location in Southern California for the efficient transportation of goods.

With the new logistics center the airport should expect to raise millions in revenue from aircraft landing fees and ground rents. However, it is the benefit to the local economy which is the icing on the cake.

Airport Executive Director Mike Burrows said, “The Eastgate project is poised to be a major catalyst for economic and community development in our communities, taking us into the next chapter of our airport development.”

The new logistics center would likely be occupied by a single tenant who would benefit from the combined distribution center and adjacent aircraft parking stands. FedEx Express and UPS already occupy their own smaller distribution centers at the airport to support their daily flights, meaning another operator is expected to occupy the new facility.

Amazon has already been linked with the Eastgate site, which would complement its existing fulfilment center at the airport. An announcement on the operator is expected once construction begins.

While the airport and local residents have all proved in favour of the new development, Hillside will need to wait for the final nod from the FAA, which decides what developments are permitted at airports around the country.

If approved, construction work could begin in June, with the center opening by the end of the year or early in 2020.

Commenting on just how the airport has grown, Gibbs added, “In 2016, cargo activity totaled just 36 flights. Since then, the number and size of all-cargo carriers has increased rapidly, ballooning to 633 all-cargo flights in 2018, with growth momentum in the cargo segment extending into 2019.”

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Safety tips for real estate professionals meeting with buyers or showing houses

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In 2018, 67 percent of real estate professionals experienced a situation that made them fear for their personal safety or the safety of their personal information, according to the 2018 Member Safety Report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). In fact, 28 percent of respondents reported that they feel unsafe every few months.

According to Mark Leetch, senior risk control consultant at CBIZ Inc., this is a very real problem. “Realtors face the exposure of sexual assault, robbery, and even being murdered,” he says.

This sentiment is shared by Angela Williams, a Birmingham, Alabama-based realtor at Extreme Agent. “The very nature of this effort often places us in harm’s way,” she says. “Because we engage strangers or people we are not familiar with, the risk of harm is a plausible concern.” And she believes that social media contributes to the risks that realtors face. “Social media is a great marketing tool, and has become a necessity for our business, but it also increases the potential for risk.”

In the NAR report, some of the common scenarios in which realtors felt unsafe included open houses, vacant homes/model homes, properties in remote areas, properties that were unlocked or unsecured, and buyers who wouldn’t meet in a public place.

Tips for staying safe

The goal of this article is to make realtors aware, not afraid. Fortunately, there are several steps that you can take to stay safe while enjoying the advantages of your profession.

“We care a lot about realtor safety — both as an association looking out for our members, and each of us as individuals,” says Anne Meczywor, president of the 2019 Massachusetts Association of Realtors and also a broker/associate at Roberts & Associates Realty in Lenox, Massachusetts. “We must constantly remain aware of the potential risks and dangers of working in this profession,” she says.

Tip 1: Create safety policies

Meczywor advises realtors to routinely review the various safety procedures of their brokerage, and if there are no procedures in place, she recommends creating and implementing them as soon as possible. Nearly half of survey respondents reported their brokerages have a standard set of procedures for agent safety. (Also, 71 percent of brokerages have procedures for safeguarding and disposing of client data and information.)

“While technology, in the form of safety applications, has come a long way in keeping us safe, having a safety plan that is understood and practiced consistently by everyone in the office is our greatest defense,” says Meczywor.

Tip 2: Utilize technology

Speaking of safety applications, NAR survey respondents reported using a variety of smartphone apps. The Find My iPhone feature is used by 30 percent of respondents, while 6 percent use GPS Phone Track for Android, 3 percent use HomeSnap Pro, and 2 percent use either Life360 or SentriSmart.

Whether you’re using technology or leaving sticky notes, the key is to make sure your whereabouts are never in doubt. “I cannot stress the importance of communication,” says Williams. “Someone needs to know where you are at all times.”

Leetch also recommends communicating on a routinely basis. “Notify office, family, or friends of a showing and indicate that there will be hourly ‘check-in’ phone calls or texts,” he says. “If there is no correspondence within an hour, your office, family, or friend should call you.”

He also recommends checking your cellphone signal strength before entering a property and he advises you to have emergency numbers programmed and ready.

Tip 3: Don’t work alone

Your chances of being harmed decrease significantly when you’re accompanied by someone else. “If possible, work with a partner, friend, or family member at an open house,” advises Leetch. And this is the approach that Williams uses. “One of the ways I have chosen to protect myself is to bring my husband or one of my sons with me,” she says.

Tip 4: Carry protection

Williams also recommends carrying a firearm for protection. “Follow lawful requirements of your local government by obtaining a license and permit to carry, get trained on how to use it correctly, and carry it,” she advises.

“But if you just cannot fathom the thought of using a firearm, get pepper spray,” Williams says. “It is better to be prepared and the risk does not present itself than to not be prepared if it does.”

According to the NAR report, 16 percent of respondents carry pepper spray, 15 percent have a firearm, 7 percent keep a pocket knife and 5 percent have a taser. Eight percent didn’t want to reveal the type of self-defense weapon they carry.

Tip 5: Scope out the property

Leetch also provides the following tips to remain safe when showing a property:

  • Upon entering a property for the first time, check all rooms for possible “escape” routes. Make sure all deadbolt locks are unlocked to facilitate a faster escape.
  • Identify escape routes off the property. If exiting out the back door, make sure fencing does not prohibit egress from the property.
  • Have all visitors “sign in” with as much information as they will provide.
  • When showing a property always walk behind the prospect; direct them, don’t lead them.
  • Avoid attics, small rooms, or basements with no escape route.
  • Meet the neighbors of the property being shown, let them know there is a showing and you will follow up when it’s over. Ask neighbors to keep watch.
  • Don’t assume that everyone has left the property following a showing or an open house. Check all rooms and be prepared to defend yourself if you find someone.

Tip 6: Follow your instincts

There’s no way to cover every potential scenario that could occur. Williams says you should trust your gut instinct. “Do not allow the potential for monetary gain to cloud your judgment,” she warns. “If you feel as though something is amiss, you are probably right.”

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The future of interior design sourcing

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Like many other industries and professions, interior design is becoming increasingly digitized. From conception and rendering, to project management, to how designers communicate with their teams and their clients, basic processes and procedures are transferring to digital platforms. One of the areas most affected by this transformation is sourcing and purchasing.

What began as a gradual shift towards e-commerce at the beginning of the decade has exploded into a robust online universe of interior design products and services. E-commerce has pulled back the curtain on interior design sourcing.

Many manufacturers whose products were once available to the trade only now sell at least part of their inventory directly to consumers, and many more vendors have entered the space offering to broker products or promoting cheaper lookalike goods. Most of these products — and their prices — can easily be found and ordered using web browsers, apps, and social media platforms from any smart device.

This trend is only going to get stronger. E-commerce sales in the U.S. last year reached somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 billion dollars, more than twice what they were just five years ago.

At the same time, brick-and-mortar spaces are becoming more expensive, and the whole approach to furniture and design is changing. More and more clients are opting for a mix of custom and retail products. In addition, due to other trends, such as empty nesters who are downsizing and millennials who prefer smaller, uncluttered spaces, many clients these days want less furniture and accessories in the home.

At the same time, designer services have become more commoditized. Born out of the post-recession industry slowdown, new design-online firms keep popping up all the time, offering everything from low-cost turnkey design packages to full-scale bespoke services that include sourcing and purchasing. Some clients just want the product, others the expertise, some both.

These days, the client is often seeking a consultation from the designer but prefers to do their own purchasing. That creates a challenge for designers, showrooms and design centers that cater to professional purchasers. Both need to rethink their business model if they want to survive in a digital economy.

Designers can no longer sell their services at a low rate and make up the difference on mark-ups and custom charges. Consumers can go to a retailer and do their purchasing and get basic design advice for free. Serious clients are looking for an experienced, knowledgeable advisor who will work with them, not for them.

They know the result they want, but not how to get it. Designers need to set clear expectations, develop a collaborative working relationship with their clients, understand what makes them tick, and provide value around that.

Showrooms and design centers need to become more proactive. They cannot just have product in a space and hope designers (and/or consumers) will show. Instead, they should have outside reps to call on design firms and develop relationships with the designers. Then, they really need to help with the selling process to make sure the value of their product is clear.

The most frequent complaint I hear about showrooms is poor customer service. Some designers have just given up working with their local showroom and prefer to deal directly with the manufacturer. Showrooms really need to step up their customer service if they want to retain designers’ business. That includes keeping on top of orders and delivery schedules, and following through during the entire process, through installation and after, if problems occur.

Because many services and purchases are becoming digitized and automated, the value for professionals has shifted even more to relationships. Whether dealing with customer service or engaging a particular professional, customers want a great interactive experience with the person they’re dealing with. Exceed their expectations, and they will be willing to pay professional fees or custom prices.

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Housing’s delicate balance

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With home sales continuing to fall, things don’t look good at the moment for the housing industry. Nonetheless, builders and realtors remain optimistic that the tide is beginning to turn in their favor.

A number of factors, such as declining mortgage rates and home prices, rising inventories of homes for sale, and strong consumer confidence in the economy, may lure more buyers into the market this spring. Much depends, however, on whether the economy begins to slow down, as some experts predict, and whether current homeowners view this as an optimal time to sell.

Sales of existing homes dropped for the second month in a row in January (by 1.2 percent), although not as precipitously as in December (by 6.4 percent) or as a year ago (by 3.2 percent). In volume, sales hit their lowest level since November 2015 and are now down 8.5 percent from the same time last year.

Upon release of the report, Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), stated, “sales likely have reached a cyclical low. Moderating home prices combined with gains in household income will boost housing affordability, bringing more buyers to the market in the coming months.”

Supporting that view, Fannie Mae announced that its Home Purchase Sentiment Index (HPSI) rose 1.2 points in January, largely due to an eight-point jump in those who reported substantially higher income than at the same time a year before. Participants also were less concerned that home prices and mortgage rates would increase in the coming months, and slightly more said now was a good time to buy a home (up 1.2 points).

Data from federal agencies on new home construction and sales are still lagging behind as a result of the month-long government shutdown in December and January. Dodge Data & Analytics reports new single-family home construction (by dollar value) in January remained about the same as December, but was up 3 percent compared to January 2018. Similarly, Redfin estimates new home sales (in units) dipped just 0.2 percent in January, compared to December, declining 8 percent from a year ago.

According to the RE/MAX National Housing Report for January, overall home sales (new and existing) in the markets it tracks were down 11 percent year-over-year. Redfin puts overall home sales in January at 7.6 percent below the previous year, the sixth consecutive month of declines.

There was some good news in the latest reports. Home prices are not accelerating as rapidly as they did early last year. RE/MAX found the median price of all homes sold in January was up 4.6 percent, a sizable decrease from 6.7 percent in January 2018. The NAR reported the median price of a single-family home increased 3.1 percent for the year, slightly higher than the 2.8 percent for all existing homes. Redfin calculates the median price of homes sold in January was 2.9 percent above that of a year ago.

Inventories of homes for sale are increasing. Zillow stated that for the first time in five years inventories had increased year-over-year, by 1.2 percent. The NAR stated the number of existing homes for sale rose by about 3.8 percent for the month.

Redfin reported the number of all homes for sale in January was up 6.3 percent from December, the biggest increase since May 2015. “We expect the supply of homes for sale to increase,” said Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, “giving buyers more homes to buy, but not so many that prices drop broadly.”

Coinciding with these developments, the Federal Reserve’s decision not to raise interest rates any time soon has helped push down mortgage rates, which topped 5.0 percent for a while last November, to 4.3 percent this week.

The National Association of Home Builders said the decline in interest rates, along with growing consumer confidence, drove its February Housing Market Index, an indicator of builder confidence, up four points over January’s score. Builders reported improvements across the board in current sales, buyer traffic and expectations for the next six months.

Combined, these positive trends boosted pending home sales in January, which rose 4.6 percent for the month following a 2.2 percent decline in December. That’s the biggest month-over-month increase since February 2017 and possibly a sign of an impending market rebound this spring. That depends on whether conditions continue to stabilize — still a big “if” — but looking more possible than a just a couple of months ago.

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