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White & Cugier: A Perspective on Seattle Real Estate

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By Kristin Bentley

Gil White and Stephen Cugier are commercial real estate brokers from Seattle-based Orion Commercial Partners, a brokerage firm of three managing partners and five active vice presidents that was founded in 2010.

Bringing ten years of experience with CBRE prior to joining Orion Commercial Partners, Gil White predominantly works with the downtown Seattle business community and is known best as a commercial real estate market observer that works with new companies during their start-up phase. Prior to entering commercial real estate, White led high level fundraising campaigns at universities and non-profits throughout the US and Canada. Some of his clients include Allstate Insurance, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Archdiocesan Housing Authority and 4th Street Plaza.

A tenant representative with over 12 years of corporate real estate experience with Colliers International and Jones Lang LaSalle, Stephen Cugier focuses on site selection, financial analysis, transaction management and portfolio optimization. Recently, Cugier was certified by the Cascadia Green Building Council as a Green Broker and has been trained to counsel clients on stainable real estate strategies. Cugier was the first broker to negotiate a lease at Seattle’s Bullitt Center, the world’s most sustainable office building. Some of his clients include Hitachi Consulting Corporation, Health Alliance International, US Bank and Tektronix.

White and Cugier also host a podcast series titled “Champions for Corporate Tenants” that offers advice from subject matter experts.

The Registry spoke with White and Cugier to learn more about their firm, Orion Commercial Partners, and share some of their experience and knowledge of today’s Seattle commercial market.

TR: With your experience in the Puget Sound market, what are you noticing in this particular cycle that seems to be different from others you’ve seen in the past?

WHITE & CUGIER: Just when you think the credit appears to be more disciplined this time around you see past warning signs reappear, and all of a sudden it becomes difficult to block out the memories of past bubbles. But it’s hard to imagine the next recession could be as jarring as the last one.

TR: As the technology sector grows in Seattle, what are you doing to appeal to that clientele?

WHITE & CUGIER: The tech industry has been flourishing in Seattle for 20 plus years, so most veteran tenant representation brokers in Seattle have a long list of tech clients. Some went boom, but most went bust. We think the best way to serve this ever-growing tech ecosystem is by introducing ideas and strategies that aren’t necessarily a commercial real estate broker’s dream deal, but in all honesty often serves the client best. For example a traditional talk track from brokerage that we do not endorse might translate something like this: “Mr. Tech tenant, your company has no credit and you will probably need to be okay with lackluster lease terms however you should instead focus on securing the space—which is an important victory that you can build upon.” In contrast to this, often we educate tech companies about the emergence and effectiveness of co-working solutions, even though these solutions don’t have much of a near-term reward for brokers.

TR: What obstacles does the commercial real estate industry face in the Puget Sound region today?

WHITE & CUGIER: Firstly, inflation. Secondly, transportation and infrastructure lagging. And thirdly, finding effective ways to properly accommodate minority and low-income populations—because the vibrancy of our regions depends on it.

TR: What does this region have to offer that is unique compared to other markets?

WHITE & CUGIER: Abundant intellectual capital, beautiful geography and a progressive mindset.

TR: Are there certain parts of the Puget Sound region where you believe we will see more activity than others? Which ones and why?

WHITE & CUGIER: Regional traffic congestion is leading to higher density development in downtown cores, which also contributes to more abundant retail and effective urbanization. With millennial work populations preferring to work close to where they live in order to avoid a long commute, cities like Seattle and Bellevue will continue to see more activity.

TR: Do you foresee an impact of the slowdown in Asia to affect the commercial market in the Pacific Northwest?

WHITE & CUGIER: It’s difficult to say how we’re being impacted by the slowdown in Asia, but we’re still seeing plenty of foreign and in particular Asian money chasing Pacific Northwest real estate deals.

TR: What concerns do you perceive on the horizon?

WHITE & CUGIER: Nearly 6.8 million square feet of new office space is currently under construction, although only 38.4 percent of that is pre-leased. Translation: A big chunk of supply is about to be injected into the office space market, which historically leads to a softening of rental rates. For all the tenants out there currently renewing at the top of the market, should you be considering a short-term deal?

TR: In the Puget Sound region, what makes your firm different?

WHITE & CUGIER: Rather than participate in the beauty contest that is rampant in corporate real estate brokerage, we simply focus on building solid, trusting relationships with our clients and delivering consistent value. We might miss an assignment or two by not puffing, but when we are hired this style earns our client’s loyalty and repeat business. People tire of answering endless broker cold calls. We seek new ways to engage with professionals who can provide key industry insights in fresh, innovative ways. Have you seen our podcast series? Also, we embrace the same work ethos as our clients. For instance, do you know any brokers that take transit into work? You do now. Our firm provides traditional vehicles for things like tours, and supports work mobility. We also use all other public and private alternative means of transportation such as bus, rail, Uber, Lyft, biking, etc. so that we understand commuting challenges and solutions in all parts of the market.