SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — When Conor Schmidt was searching recently for office space for his new physical therapy practice, he found just the right spot at the Salt Pond Shopping Center.
He first had to hunt around and look at various other locations, and all were price competitive. He didn’t see a glut of bargain listings, as some areas of New England have reported in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“I looked at a few others, but this one offered the space and the price point for rental. It had a competitive price point with others,” said Schmidt, who has relocated from Long Island to Rhode Island and on Sept. 21 plans to open his office.
The search for space brought him to Narragansett because he wants to focus on the tri-town target area that offers strong potential for growth and less competition than elsewhere, he said.
Joe Viele, executive director of the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce wouldn’t be surprised at Schmidt paying a competitive price for a prime location.
“I can’t tell you of anyone in particular who gave up or deserted their office space because of COVID,” Viele told The Independent this week. Kristin Urbach, executive director of the North Kingstown Chamber offered a similar assessment.
Although COVID sickened many South County residents and brought remote work-from-home for thousands, office occupancy rates have remained healthy nonetheless.
Statistics that Gov. Dan McKee’s office gave this week to The Independent show less available office space today compared to two years ago.
The towns of Narragansett, South Kingstown and North Kingstown have a combined number of 109 buildings with commercial office space for rent – nearly 1.4 million square feet.
The data shows that for 2021 only 3.7% is vacant, while in 2020 it was about 4.9% and in 2019 it was 4.3% in all three years for the number of buildings and square feet.
Viele offered a possible explanation. Of the area’s small businesses that he communicates with, “not one of them has told me ‘I am totally remote,’” he told The Independent.
“I would say there’s still some remote work from home stuff going on, but I don’t think there is nearly as much remote work going on as there was in April 2020,” he said.
Most businesses that had office space maintained it even if they worked remotely for a time, he said. “Some did combo or remote or working in office, but the front door was locked. Think of existing insurance or similar business on a main or side street,” he added.
Quonset Business Park
The same is true for the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown.
A year ago, Steven J. King, managing director for quasi-state agency overseeing the park, told the Providence Business News that the park was routinely receiving multiple inquiries per week on available property in the first few months of the year.
In an interview last year, King said that since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, interest has dwindled to “nothing, at least not of substance.”
This year, David Preston, a spokesman for the agency, which is called the Quonset Development Corp., gave a rosier view.
“Things have changed a great deal since that was written over a year ago at the height of the pandemic and pre-vaccine. The fact that four Gateway buildings are fully leased and space has filled quickly in Gateway 5 in only five months, while all existing flex industrial buildings are fully leased is a much better indicator of current activity at Quonset,” he said.
McKee accented that point.
“Quonset Business Park has only 94.6 acres of available land left, and I am excited to work with QDC to bring job-producing investment to every city and town in Rhode Island under this new program,” he said.
This effort at helping Southern Rhode Island didn’t surprise Viele as he looked at the overall picture.
“Office space and retail in Southern part of the state has been fairly constant. It didn’t see heavy vacancy like seen in Pawtucket and Providence — leaving and not returning. We’ve dodged a problem as so clearly is seen,” he said.
Schmidt, the physical therapist, understood that point as he starts to put a new business in the area and in a busy shopping plaza, which has some vacant storefronts, but a strong anchor in Stop&Shop and some other stores.
“I like the location. It’s basically in a good location, has good signage and is in a high traffic area,” he said.