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Five Questions With: Thomas Sweeney

July 16, 2015

Thomas Sweeney is principal of Sweeney Real Estate and Appraisal, a Providence company that specializes in commercial real estate. Sweeney Real Estate was among the five largest in Rhode Island in 2013 for square-footage leased or sold. In a recent interview with the Providence Business News, Sweeney focused on office-space trends.

PBN: What is the interest level in Providence for office space, six months into 2015?

SWEENEY: It’s just like the economy here. It’s a slow, steady pace. It’s not booming in any sense of the word. While deals are getting done, people are moving and growing slightly, we just did three deals downtown that all involved three months of rent (free). Concessions are still involved in a lot of office deals. The good news is it is getting better. If you look at downtown, the A space is still strong, close to single digit vacancy. The B space is getting a little more complicated because there is so much conversion going on.

PBN: What are some of the things companies want when they look at space in older buildings?

SWEENEY: It’s a lot of things. Looking at the older buildings, they’re typically smaller companies. If you’re looking at the older buildings, they want the infrastructure in place that they can use. They want the technology in place. But if they’re looking at those old buildings, they like the character. They like lots of windows and higher ceilings and the architectural details. They’ll get them in the building, but then it comes down to dollars and cents. And the reality of it is, everyone is looking for concessions. If they can find parking that is included in the rent, they’ll like it, but it doesn’t really exist downtown. Landlords are able to hold the line a little more because it’s improving.

PBN: What aren’t they finding in this market? What are the kinds of things that break deals?

SWEENEY: Lack of parking. They might like the historical detail and everything else, but if they can’t find affordable parking, they’re going to look at other alternatives outside the city.

PBN: Can you describe a notable, recent transaction?

SWEENEY: We’ve done four office deals in and around Providence, the largest being an almost 15,000-square-foot search for a regional accounting firm. They looked at options in and out of the city and at the end of the day, they stayed where they were, because it offered more amenities. While they went out with a much larger requirement at first, as they went through the process, they realized they didn’t need that. They extended their lease. Two professional firms were looking, at downtown and the fringe of downtown, both decided to stay downtown because – one of them was a law firm – they preferred the access to the courts. They were willing to deal with the parking situation.

PBN: What do you have now as a listing that is either unusual or interesting? Anything that is getting a lot of attention?

SWEENEY: We have a 4,000-square-foot unit in the Jewelry District that has gotten a lot of interest, 150 Chestnut St., the Doran Building. It’s interesting, a lot of the interest over there is bred by what’s going to fall out from other things happening in the city, in the I-195 land. They’re looking at it not only for the future, but because it’s an old mill/converted space it has that, for lack of a better word, ‘funky, creative’ space.

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