Changing Times Spur Reinvention, Change

Article originally posted on Globe St. on May 14, 2009

Ari Spiro recently left a 15-year stint at Sperry Van Ness to launch ORION Investment Real Estate Solutions, while Las Vegas developer Matt Bear of Venture Development Group is seeing land he bought a few years ago headed toward the foreclosure block. As the region’s economy meanders along in its search for the bottom, these industry veterans suggest change is absolutely necessary to adapt, and this isn’t a bad thing.

“We have to start reinventing ourselves and adapting,” comments Bear. “What happened in the market, this whole situation, no one foresaw it falling off the cliff.” In 2006, Bear’s company bought 33 acres in Tolleson, AZ, to develop a retail project. The company also bought the 653,400-square-foot Marley Park Promenade in Surprise, AZ a year later. But when loans on both assets came due, refinancing wasn’t available. As a result, both assets are headed for a July trustee sale.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility now, in terms of how assets move forward,” Bear tells “We 100% still believe in Phoenix, but obviously the velocity is out of the market. Everyone is still searching for the right value.”

Spiro, who founded ORION with former Sperry Van Ness advisor Sean Stutzman says even when properties like Venture Development’s end up on the sales block via foreclosure, they may not move there, either A lot of buyers, he explains, are coming into the area, hoping for a really hot deal on a distressed asset or a foreclosure. The problem is, however, that no one knows what the value of a really hot deal on a distressed asset looks like.”

“We’re attending some of the trustee sales, and they get pushed back all the time,” he says. “No one can point to a deal actually happening in these situations. No one knows what the comps really are.” In the meantime, he adds, he has an asset on the market that is fully stabilized with good, long-term credit tenants and “I can barely get anyone to look at it for $60 a square foot,” he says, somewhat wryly. “Everyone’s afraid it will be worth less tomorrow.”

What’s a company to do in this limbo-like scenario? Spiro says the only thing to do is to broaden the vision instead of looking short-term. “Our vision at ORION is three-to-five years out, not three-to-five months out,” he says. And given current economic conditions, he anticipates that more than 50% of the inventory in town will change hands during that period.

Because of that potential, Spiro left the larger Sperry Van Ness to form a smaller company, and is implementing technologies and services to try to provide a competitive advantage in his field. The more information he can provide his clients, he reasons, the better-informed they’ll be, and the more competitive ORION can be.

This is a far cry from the brokers of 18 and 24 months ago, who could put almost anything on the market and see it sell immediately. Then again, this isn’t the same market of 18 and 24 months ago.

There is some good news, though. Bear says Venture Development’s other Phoenix area holdings are all right, for now. “We’re doing everything we can to hang onto those,” he comments. “We’re doing what we need to do, and changing what we need to.”

Spiro says he’s working on a deal on the west side with a developer who has a tenant in hand. If that comes through, it could mean a 200,000-square-foot project. In the meantime, patience is the key word, he notes. “Everything will come back, everything will cycle,” Spiro adds. “There’s money to be made on all of this, but it will take a little time.”