Martin Moriarty Discusses Retail and His Career in Commercial Real Estate in the Vancouver Market [Feature Interview]

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Reaching the summit within any profession, dominating the field in which one plies their skills, is the career goal for many. Reaching those heights, however, accomplishing the very highest objectives, is something that only a few have the opportunity to actually experience. And, when it comes to commercial real-estate in Canada, the number of individuals who can claim that achievement is that much scarcer. Though it’s not nearly one of the focuses of the conversation when speaking with Martin Moriarty about the work he executes on behalf of his clients, he is surely at the top of his game and one of the most reputable and recognizable names on the Canadian commercial real estate scene. As Senior Vice President, Investments & Leasing, at Marcus & Millichap, he’s helping to maintain the reputation of the company as the number one commercial real estate investment sales brokerage and capital markets advisory in North America. And he’s doing so through an impressive combination of unyielding philosophy, a breadth of global experiences and accumulated market acumen.

“When speaking with people about success and the characteristics that are required to achieve, you often hear qualities like hard work, dedication and commitment,” he says. “And, although those are definite requirements, they’re the bare minimum from my perspective. In order to apply these attributes properly, I think context is very important. I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled a lot and experienced many different parts of the world. As part of those experiences, I’ve been able to see what has worked and what hasn’t worked in different markets, across various platforms, cities and streets. There’s always a lot to be learned from places like Singapore, London, Dubai and Tokyo from a commercial leasing perspective. Mario and I continue to push forward the agenda within Vancouver, leveraging these experiences and our knowledge of different markets. To do this, we’re extremely focused on adding more class ‘A’ retail, international brands and unique, local merchants in order to ensure that the city has an eclectic, interesting and exciting array of retailers to shop with.”

Strong senior partnership

Martin Moriarty and Mario Negris

Moriarty started work within commercial real estate in London, England in 2008, a time that he describes mildly as “quite interesting” against the backdrop of a worldwide economic recession. He says that these early years within his career provided him with incredible experience and a grounding as a professional that continues to serve him to this day. After nearly three years of teeth-cutting within one of the harshest and most competitive environments in the world, he relocated to Vancouver where shortly after he joined the team at CBRE Limited. Following the better part of a decade, during which time he rose the ranks within the company, he left as Senior Vice President with an inordinate amount of gained experience. And, most recently, in April of this year, Moriarty, along with long-time CBRE colleague and fellow broker extraordinaire, Mario Negris, joined Marcus & Millichap to spearhead an expansion at the North American commercial real estate giant. While at CBRE, the pair formed a partnership that led to a domination of the retail leasing scene in Vancouver. And, according to Moriarty, their partnership, and the success that it generates, continues to strengthen.

“Mario’s a bit of an icon in the industry, rightfully so,” lauds Moriarty. “What can I say? He’s got an absolutely relentless work ethic and determination to succeed. Combine that with a knowledge of retail and the market like no other and he’s onviously going to be the dominant market leader. I was extremely fortunate to have mentored with him and to have had the opportunity to develop such an enjoyable, successful and rewarding partnership with him through the years. And today, at Marcus & Millichap, we’ve both got the privilege of being involved in a great team of young, hungry brokers. It’s been barely more than six months since we joined. But it’s been a fantastic start. We’ve always been fascinated by the development and transformation of a neighbourhood, a street or a space. Just look at what Mario did, working closely with clients, on Alberni Street where it’s now the epicentre of luxury. It’s what get’s us excited to do what we do. And we’re aiming to be a long-standing developer of the social fabric of Vancouver through our work.”

Dominant performance

Based on data within Marcus & Millichap’s annual report, it seems that Moriarty, Negris and their team are doing just that. Over the course of the past year, they’ve been responsible for an incredible 156 deals in Vancouver, comprised of 66 sale transactions, 4 consultant transactions and 86 lease transactions, representing more than 85 percent of the cities downtown retail leasing market. They are numbers that would be considered significant at any time within Vancouver, let alone during a period of such turbulence and uncertainty. Moriarty recognizes the incredible achievements that he and his team continue to realize, but credits the fortitude of the city of Vancouver for the positivity that’s been sustained within the market throughout the pandemic.

“In a word, it’s been fascinating,” he asserts. “When the world changed 18 months ago, everyone within the industry was anticipating an enforced sabbatical for at least a short period. But that didn’t happen. I’ve been incredibly impressed by the resilience of Vancouver. There wasn’t a lull at all. And we didn’t see any panic set in. Everything took a little longer, but most deals continued as is. Deals with necessity-based groups carried on, which wasn’t a surprise. But what fascinated me was the fact that we were able to continue closing deals with international tenants who weren’t too familiar with the market virtually. We’ve been able to close a number of flagship deals with big brands as well during a global pandemic. It’s a real testament to the city both in terms of how it continues to perform economically as well as socially.”

Experiential evolution

Image: Martin Moriarty and Eric Yang, Founder, Blossom Dim Sum & Grill

He goes on to explain that the market positivity is not only helping to ensure that Vancouver’s streets of commercial activity like Granville, Robson, Water, West 4th, Broadway and others remain vibrant and successful, it also serves to encourage creativity within Vancouver’s business community. It’s creativity that Moriarty says is showing up in the types of retailers that are opening store locations within the city as well as the variations of experiences that brands are developing for their customers. And, looking ahead, he says with confidence that there are lots of exciting deals currently happening that shoppers within the city will be extremely excited about.

“We’re seeing a lot of the retailers based in digital technology continue to expand, move in and experience success,” he says. “And, there’s also a lot of attention being paid to detail from the perspective of store design in order to help create and support a more experiential kind of retail. What we’re finding as we continue moving forward into this age of digitization is that simply being a great retailer just doesn’t cut it anymore. People want to experience things and to be entertained. For instance, we just closed a deal for Maison Kitsune, an amazing brand from Paris, which will open a location on Water Street in Gastown. The store’s going to include a high-end café, and wine bar, offering within the space with the intention of drawing more people in. And, with respect to shopping centres and other larger spaces, exhibits like the Marvel Avengers Station in Toronto and the Harry Potter experience in New York will continue to be rolled out, driving traffic and interest from prospective shoppers. But, no matter what type of retailer or experience we’re talking about, I’ve never seen so much activity and interest from international retailers and expect a number of exciting entries in to the city over the course of the next 6 to 18 months.”

Vancouver on the rise

The consistency of the Vancouver commercial real estate market throughout the pandemic, as already noted, has been impressive. However, beyond the city’s collective ability to sustain success and growth during a difficult period, Moriarty says that its performance over the past year-and-a-half is also going a long way toward increasing its appeal among brands looking to expand. And, as a result of the continued consistency of the market, something that Moriarty describes as “more of the same”, he believes that the potential for he and his team to further enhance the quality and breadth of retail offering within Vancouver is immense.

“We definitely aren’t expecting any crazy transformations within the marketplace, this is Vancouver!” he explains. “But there are going to be huge opportunities going forward. Vancouver remains under-retailed relative to the rest of Canada and the U.S., so just having space become free is important for growth. Most of the streets and nodes within the city have historically been very tight. They are all very small blocks and segments of submarkets. So, space doesn’t often free up for additional commercial tenants. But, because of some recent movement and changes, there is some space offering options to interested brands. And, it’s important to note that Vancouver as a brand, considering its current standing and the ways it’s handled the pandemic in comparison to other cities and countries, has helped to increase its reputation globally. I’m receiving interest from brands all over the world. And we’re really looking to capitalize on Vancouver’s high stock to continue growing the city’s retail presence.”

Exciting developments

Image: Martin Moriarty with Mario Negris

With respect to some of the current projects that Moriarty and his team are working on, they are being kept “very busy” he says. Some of the higher profile ventures include work being done in the heart of the central business district with Bentall Centre and its ownership Hudson Pacific Properties around a transformation of the Centre’s retail offering and the creation of a new retail and entertainment destination. Another flagship project is the development of 800 Granville Street in which Moriarty’s team will be working on 100,000 square feet of commercial space. In addition, they will also be collaborating with Westbank and QuadReal to deliver world class tenancies to support the impressive reinvention of Oakridge Centre and help its ownership push forward the agenda of luxury and high-profile retail. Each of these projects are grand in scope and allow Moriarty and his team to continue executing on their mandate of further developing the fabric of Vancouver. And, considering the amount of enthusiasm with which he raves about the potential of the city, it seems that there remains a lot of development ahead.

“Mario and I will continue fulfilling our objective to fill space within the city with exciting international and national retail tenants. The projects that we’re currently working on are going to be some of the best, if not the best, projects in all of North America. I’m often cautious when brokers only speak positively about their market but I truly mean and stand by my assessment of Vancouver at the moment. It’s a city that’s really taking off from a number of perspectives, retail being one of them. Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen large levels of investment and a strong sentiment of confidence. It’s fuelling positivity and growth. And I believe that it’s positivity and growth that will only accelerate further moving forward, resulting in some really exciting times ahead for the city of Vancouver.”

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