Urban Hubs: The Future Pillars of the Last Mile are Seducing the Real Estate Sector

22 October 2018 – Eje Prime

Blackstone, Goldman Sachs, Prologis and Amazon have started to invest in urban hubs. The future pillars of e-commerce logistics are still in an embryonic phase, but the large real estate investors have started to track these types of assets, whereby sparking interest from other players. Forgotten old warehouses and factories (and even office buildings) in inner cities are now seducing these giants, which regard them as the new urban nuclei for handling same-day deliveries, and even, same-hour deliveries, which are demanded by e-commerce nowadays. Spanish investors are already beginning to study opening logistics centres in the heart of Madrid and Barcelona.

The Spanish market is still at the tail of the e-commerce market in Europe, where it represents just 4% of all retail sales, compared with 12% in the United Kingdom and 16% in the United States, according to the ratings agency Moody’s. Nevertheless, experts forecast that e-commerce in Spain, and on the rest of the planet, will continue to make inroads to ultimately account for one third of all retail sales.

This drastic transformation of retail is challenging for the traditional logistics system, comprising regional distribution platforms located away from urban centres that supply different local warehouses to delivery to different businesses. The new system is supported by an e-fulfilment centre (a fully automated platform), which directly supplies several urban hubs located inside cities, which make deliveries to consumers (…).

Blackstone, one of the largest real estate investors in the world, has invested around €4 million in small urban warehouses in Europe since the beginning of 2018. Unlike large warehouses on the outskirts of cities, urban hubs are smaller facilities with a lower risk in terms of their development.

The sovereign Singapore fund, GIC, has also entered the segment. The investment group even has a specific division for building logistics facilities on urban land (…).

Nevertheless, they are difficult assets to find and mould for their new function. On the one hand, because cities have grown and transformed over the last few decades, with housing replacing former industrial land (…). On the other hand, because, these facilities need to be rethought for the constant entry and exit of goods.

The future urban hubs will be built on land still classified as industrial inside cities, which is much cheaper than residential. And, given the difficulty of expanding width-wise due to the lack of land, the plans involve constructing properties with various storeys. In large cities in Asia, where land prices are very high, multi-storey warehouses are already typical.

In addition to industrial land, another option for urban hubs is to use office buildings. To the extent that new business areas in new parts of cities are created, so empty and underused spaces are being left in city centres.

Currently, new technology-based distribution companies, such as Paack and Stuart, are shaking up the market, by accelerating e-commerce deliveries using logarithmic calculations. Meanwhile, traditional express transport companies, such as Seur and MRW, amongst others, have also started to adapt to expedite last mile deliveries with small warehouses in the centre of large cities.

Small signs in Spain

Sources in the real estate sector indicate that some investors specialising in retail have started to study the implementation of these types of logistics structure to complement the flagship stores in the centre of Madrid. Specifically, some players have started to analyse the option of installing urban hubs in office buildings.

In Barcelona, we have already seen one case along those lines. In 2016, Amazon opened a warehouse in the former headquarters of the publishing house Gustavo Gili, on Calle Rosselló in the El Eixample neighbourhood, to introduce its Prime Now service offering deliveries within the hour. Nevertheless, sources in the sector indicate that Amazon may have started to question the suitability of that platform since it has not managed to make the prices of the urban land profitable (…).

Aitor Martínez, Head of Industrial & Logistic are Savills Aguirre Newman, points out that in some cities, such as London and Málaga, pilot tests are being carried out regarding deliveries of the future. A common denominator in all of them are the urban hubs. In the logistics of the future, these new logistical nuclei, will not only speed up deliveries, but they will also respond to other challenges in the sector, such as the introduction of greater restrictions over the entry of vehicles into city centres and the prohibition of polluting vehicles from the roads (…).

Original story: Eje Prime (by S. Riera & P. Riaño)

Translation: Carmel Drake

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