The home foreclosure crisis has been headline news for the past couple of years, but a drive around almost any area of North Atlanta reveals the toll the economy has taken on commercial real estate as well. Strip shopping centers and office parks all over North Fulton and Forsyth counties are full of empty space.What’s more, many experts have warned of even more commercial foreclosures in 2010. However, there have been a few positive developments recently that could indicate that “a painfully slow rebound may be underway” in commercial real estate, opined CoStar, a leading real estate listing service, in a recent online article.”There was more panic last year than there has been reality this year,” said Steve Morgan, a senior vice president with Grubb & Ellis. “Most banks are trying to work with commercial borrowers as best as they can to avoid foreclosures if at all possible.”The latest statistics reveal that the North Fulton/Forsyth office market is holding up better than the Atlanta region as a whole, with a first quarter vacancy rate of 20.1% compared to the region’s 22.6% rate, reports Grubb & Ellis.According to Roger Tutterow, professor of economics at Mercer University, correcting imbalances in commercial real estate usually takes longer due to the long lag between when projects are initiated and space is actually leased.”So I wouldn’t be surprised if vacancy rates continue to rise this year and into 2011, especially on the office side. I think we’re at least 18 months away from seeing vacancy rates start to come down, and we won’t see anything resembling normal until at least 2013.”Once a rebound begins in the commercial sector, I believe we’re likely to see a significant improvement for investors in rent prices. Due to the slow ramp-up for commercial building that Tutterow explains, commercial cycles tend to swing wider. For instance, it can easily take a year or more for the acquisition, zoning and permitting of a commercial project before actual construction begins.This slow process tends to lag behind commercial demand, thereby increasing rental rates due to the lack of supply. This supply and demand cycle takes longer in commercial than it does in residential, and the lack of supply should push rents upward during the ramp-up stage.On the retail side, Tutterow notes that there’s still a lot of vacant space that needs to be filled. “Much of it is strip mall and big-box space, which is harder to fill because there are fewer candidates for it. But I do think year-over-year retail sales numbers will improve as we work our way through the summer months.”Retail sales and consumer confidence are some of the biggest drivers of the commercial development market, and recent signs of both economic indicators are positive. Sales at stores open at least one year rose more than 9 percent in March, the largest monthly jump since 2000, and the Consumer Confidence Index rose in April from 52.3 to 57.9. As both of these continue to ratchet upward, more existing retailers will start to expand and more new retailers will enter the marketplace.”The good news is that the commercial real estate market will remain stable, but until there are signs of real job growth, I don’t think we’ll see much positive absorption,” said Morgan.