Bonnie Strickland has real estate in her blood.
A St. Petersburg native, the daughter of an architect and the first woman to own a construction firm in the city, Strickland was raised in the industry.
That’s why, after selling her own real estate firm, she has joined Coldwell Banker Commercial NRT. Strickland, who previously focused on residential real estate, now is concentrating on commercial sales, and is especially excited about possibilities for more storefronts in St. Petersburg.
“We don’t have any high-end retail here. Why do we have to go to Tampa to shop? The money is here. My phone still rings, people still call me for advice, I’m mentoring entrepreneurs, and all the buzz is, ‘I love St. Pete. I love living here, the culture, the arts, the lifestyle, but why don’t we have any retail?,” Strickland said.
An influx of new residents — many of them leaving higher-tax and less business friendly cities — has created a market for high-end home furnishings and other goods.
“What I’m envisioning is what people have asked for. St. Armand’s Circle [in Sarasota] is flourishing and the retailers are killing it. It’s not only tourists who are shopping, its all the locals who shop there,” Strickland said.
Storefronts don’t have to be downtown to be successful, she said.
“I see growth on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 16th Street because they are five minutes to downtown. You don’t have to be on Beach Drive. If it’s a nice store and friendly atmosphere people will come. They’ll drive 10 minutes but they don’t want to drive to Tampa,” Strickland said.
She also isn’t concerned about brick and mortar stores competing with online retailers.
“I’ve worked with a lot of bankers who refer business to me and they’re saying if you can order it on Amazon, we’re not lending you money. This is a different level of retail. It’s like Hyde Park, St. Armand’s Key, even downtown Dunedin, and we don’t have anything like that,” Strickland said.
Strickland’s father was a commercial architect and her mother founded LGA Homes.
Strickland founded the former Strickland Property Group in 2010.
“I started in real estate in 2010 at the bottom of the market because I saw investment opportunities with all the short sales and foreclosures. I got into it to be able to invest knowing St. Pete would bounce back,” she said.
Her reputation spread by word of mouth.
“That took off and next thing I know I’m working 100 hours a week, building a team, then I opened my own brokerage downtown and grew it. In 2019, I closed $128 million,” she said.
While her own firm was a residential agency, she had also done some commercial sales, such as when a client selling a home also wanted to sell a law or insurance office to retire.
“I liked commercial very much. I just didn’t have the time to devote to it. I just did it for residential clients,” she said.
The long hours were difficult, however, so when Douglas Elliman, a national real estate brokerage, offered to buy Strickland Property Group and take it to the next level while giving Strickland more time off, she agreed. She sold for an undisclosed price in February 2019.
When she resigned from Douglas Elliman in April 2020, she had a non-compete agreement that kept her from selling homes, but allowed her to sell commercial properties.
“I could at least practice because I love real estate. I wasn’t ready to retire. I love selling and helping people,” she said.
While she has not ruled out a return to residential real estate in the future, “I love the work-life balance now. Commercial real estate is 9-5, Monday through Friday, no nights, weekends or holidays,” she said.
She joined Coldwell Banker because of previous relationships with that company.
“Their integrity and their honesty and their moral compass was exactly like mine. They have been extremely supportive and my biggest cheerleader. It’s the perfect fit,” she said.
She works from Coldwell Banker’s office at 280 Beach Drive NE. Coldwell Banker’s Janet Robinson is Strickland’s supervisory broker.
One year into the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s difficult to project where the commercial real estate market is going, Strickland said.
“It’s hard to say quite yet until everyone is vaccinated. Half of the clients that have called during the pandemic have said I don’t need 35,000 square feet any more. Half my employees are working from home. How can we repurpose the other part of the space? The other half are calling me and saying they want to buy more; what’s available?,” she said. “I see some people looking ahead and seeing their business expanding over the next five years, but some businesses will be downsizing with employees choosing and preferring to work from home. I think there will be opportunities on both sides, for people who want to expand as well as people who want to scale down.”
Prices have been escalating but are still lower than other parts of the U.S., she said.
“People will pay it because they want to work here and they want to live here,” she said. “We’re a tax friendly place. We’re safe. We’ve got so much going for us. People are coming here from New York or California, where they’re used to paying that for commercial. I think St. Pete will continue to flourish with the amount of people coming here.”
There’s also an inventory shortage and bidding wars for some properties as soon as they hit the market. “That’s the sign of a robust economy and a growing city. It’s great news for everybody,” Strickland said.
Still, she’s advising clients to take a go-slow approach.
“Everyone needs to be vaccinated and we’ve got to be smart. I wouldn’t want someone to buy something and have the price go down,” she said.