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Q&A: Capital Development Partners Chief John Knox Porter Sees Opportunity for Ports Markets in Post-Panamax World

CoStar Market Insights: Industry Veteran Talks About His Firm's Savannah Port Logistics Center and Outlook for Local Industrial Market
August 6, 2018

Image credit: Capital Development Partners



After playing inside linebacker for Georgia Tech’s football team, John Knox Porter followed in his father’s footsteps to pursue a career in real estate. He spent 25 years with CBRE’s logistics and infrastructure specialty practice team and was a member of a team that handled more than 100 million square feet of deals in major industrial market across the country.

Now the chief executive of Capital Development Partners, a national developer and investor in industrial real estate and infrastructure projects based in Atlanta, Porter's company is partnering with investment manager Greenfield Partners on its most ambitious development project to date: the $125 million Savannah Port Logistics Center.

The Port of Savannah is one of the fastest growing and largest single-container ports in the U.S. When completed, the 190-acre distribution center will be one of the largest rail-served logistics properties in the Southeast.

CoStar Market Analytics recently spoke with Porter about his firm’s new project in Savannah and his outlook for the industrial real estate market.

CoStar: Thank you for speaking with us. This is a bit of a change for you personally, correct? What attracted your firm to Savannah?

John Knox Porter: »I spent 25 years with CBRE’s logistics and infrastructure specialty practice team and was the top producer for a decade. My team and I have done more than 100 million square feet of deals in every major industrial market in the country. I wanted to take what I learned after a career as an advisor and apply that firsthand.

We see Savannah as a great place to do business. The expansion of the Panama Canal is a game changer for global freight, and the Georgia Port Authority has done an absolutely wonderful job to capture a larger share of that international trade. It's a very sophisticated organization that functions much more than just a landlord. They have an incredible operation that is constantly investing to expand the scale and efficiency of the port. I really can’t say enough good things about their efforts in Savannah.

Credit: Panama Canal Authority

The Cosco Yanitan containership, one of the new Neopanamax vessels to travel through the Expanded Panama Canal.


The new, much-larger Neopanamax ships are able to carry a tremendous amount of cargo, which helps lower shipping costs, and which in turn will increase demand for goods storage capacity. Finally, the airport in Savannah is quick and convenient for business and vacation travelers, and shouldn’t be understated as an asset for trade in the region.

Both buildings planned in the Savannah Port Logistics Center project are being built on a speculative basis. How is leasing going and what kind of customers do you think will be attracted to the site?

» The site works well for a number of firms and industries, however, the growth of e-commerce has really made the need to be near import/export terminals an imperative for logistics companies. The site contains a large container yard and of course will have total rail access via the Georgia Central Railway, which runs along the entire site. With room for over 1,000 employees, we think the interest will be from some of the biggest players in the industry.

The Savannah metropolitan area has a record amount of industrial space currently under construction, roughly 15 percent of the existing stock, and little of that is pre-leased. Does that amount of construction concern you at all?

» Not exactly. The metro is seeing occupancy north of 97 percent and if you look at modern space that firms are demanding today, vacancy (in those buildings) is probably even less than 1 percent. It’s an incredibly tight market that needs more modern facilities to serve modern firms. Again, these new super-sized ships are really driving demand for super-sized facilities, which are hard to find on the East Coast.

Finally, after being badly burned in the last cycle, construction lending [for new development] has been very disciplined, so we don’t think there is much 'dumb' money out there just putting up poorly thought-out projects. With the container growth at the port, we think there is easily enough demand out there to support significant construction.

The growth numbers coming from the port have indeed been impressive. Are you concerned that a trade dispute with our largest trading partners could disrupt some of that progress?

» I really don’t think there is any long-term concern with the volumes the port will see. Of course, there will be blips of lower activity. However, I think these things tend to sort themselves out. We are too interconnected and trade too important for our global leaders to inflict real damage and not come to a solution that works. It may stall the growth, but I don’t think any long term impairments are likely.

What else does Capital Development Partners have in the pipeline?

» We have gotten great feedback on this project, and I think you should be hearing about more projects from us that will be announced shortly. We see similar investment themes elsewhere, which we should be able to capitalize on. We see ourselves as investors first and developers second, so we go where it makes sense.


CoStar Market Insights provides a snapshot of recent real estate trends. The CoStar Market Analytics team monitors commercial and multifamily real estate across 390 metro areas, with a granular understanding of the projects, players and economic trends that move these markets.

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