Restructuring at oil and gas companies led to a jump in property vacancies at Charleston's five key commercial office buildings, according to a property survey by commercial real estate broker Howard Swint.
The increase ended a multi-year streak where the city's five "Class A" office buildings -- Chase Tower, BB&T Square, Huntington Square, Laidley Tower and the United Center -- were at what real estate officials considered "effective full occupancy."
Swint has conducted the survey at least once a year for the last 10 years. He last surveyed available space in the five properties in April and found they had their lowest vacancy rate -- 3.4 percent -- since before the Great Recession began to take its toll in 2008.
His Nov. 1 survey, however, found that rate increased to 9.8 percent. Swint said one industry appears to be responsible for most of the jump.
"The majority of the vacancies have to do with natural gas industry companies," Swint said.
While the early potential for development in Marcellus shale brought an influx of support jobs to Charleston offices, many companies are now in the process of reorganizing operations to better fit the actual development that has occurred in recent years.
As a result, some staff and resources are being shifted north, where most of the activity is occurring.
"They're moving toward the sweet spot of Canonsburg, (Pa.)," Swint said.
Huntington Square saw the biggest swing as a result of that shift, according to the survey.
In April, that building had the least amount of rentable space of any of the five, with just 0.8 percent of its 116,000 square feet available for lease.
Today, 18.6 percent of those square feet are empty and available.
Swint said Cabot Oil and Gas, Schlumberger and Autobahn Engineering -- all of which had Marcellus energy plays -- were key tenants to move out in recent months.
Among the other buildings, Laidley Tower, at 214,326 square feet of office space, saw its vacancy rate increase from 7 to 13.6 percent.
Chase Tower went from 1.4 to 5.4 percent vacancy, BB&T Square increased from 2.6 to 5.5 percent vacancy, and the United Center went from 4.6 to 11.2 percent vacancy.
While vacancies are on the rise, Swint said the city is experiencing the most new office space construction it has seen in nearly a decade.