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May 26, 2011 at 12:00 am

Experts Discuss the Future of Maine’s Commercial Real Estate

A panel of experts on demographics, energy, transportation, and sustainability discussed what the future of real estate development could look in Maine in the next twenty years at the Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s annual spring conference held on May 18th. The record size crowd was informed and entertained by noted real estate “futurist”, and keynote speaker, Dr. Susan Wachter from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, along with a panel of leading experts including former Maine Governor, Angus King, Commissioner of Transportation David Bernhardt, Laurie Lachance, President and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation and Gunnar Hubbard, architect and principal of Fore Solutions.

The Commercial Real Estate 2030: Mega Trends, Mega Impacts conference held at the University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Center was a hit for both MEREDA and the 230+ member audience, who got a chance to ask questions and meet the panelists one-on-one.

Wachter, Professor of Real Estate and Finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the keynote speaker at the event, discussed what the future of development would look like in Maine. She explained it was a good news/bad news situation; while Maine is the least dense state this side of the Mississippi, that open space will one day turn into a gold mine and could be developed for a portion of the 100 million more people expected to populate America by 2030. Wachter said that land, not building costs, is actually driving up the price of real estate today. All the empty land in Northern Maine could be bought and developed in the future. But there is a downside.

Maine’s growth rate will continue to be slow, with a .4 percent population increase per year, unlike the rest of the United States, which will grow by 1 percent per year.

Laurie Lachance, the former Maine State Economist and current President and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation said Maine’s growth rate has always been slow, even slower than New Hampshire’s, even though both states have equal amenities. Lachance explained that it was New Hampshire’s close proximity to Boston, Mass. that was accountable for the higher growth rate.

Many questions posed by members of the audience dealt with how to make Maine more viable to people looking to relocate. David Bernhardt, the Commissioner of Transportation, said the state had been working to improve rail lines and highways to make the commute into Boston shorter, which could help bring more residents to the state.

Gunnar Hubbard, an LEED certified architect, and King used their time to discuss the future of green building and energy.

King addressed how the high cost of heating buildings in Maine and how the price of gas has quadrupled in the last 12 years. If gas continues to rise, even if it just doubles, King said Mainers could be looking at paying $8 a gallon for gasoline.

Hubbard showed a few examples of building projects where the buildings actually work for the people living in them as a way to keep the energy cost and environmental impact down. These buildings clean the water, circulate fresh air and use energy from sunlight and other sources to power activities inside.

“It’s a change in mindset,” Hubbard said. “Now we design buildings that work for you.”

Most of the attendees stayed after the speeches and question and answer segment to mingle with other members of MEREDA to discuss what they had learned at the conference and how this will change the way they do business in the future.

“We heard knowledgeable speakers talk about some great information from some of not only the state’s leading thinkers on energy and energy policy, but on a national basis too. I think that’s one of the wonderful things that makes MEREDA such a valuable resource,” said Keith Luke, City of Westbrook.

The panelists’ presentations can be downloaded by clicking here.

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