RSMeans’ dollars-per-square-foot construction costs: four office building types of structure

02/17/2010 by Alex Carrick

Accompanying this report are tables and charts based on RSMeans’ measures of dollar-per-square-foot construction costs. The results for 25 major cities are shown for four office building types differentiated by height and usage. Means has altered specifications with regard to its costing model for a medical office building. Therefore, with respect to a medical office building, it is not valid to compare this year’s figures with last year’s to determine percentage changes. The specifications for the other three categories of commercial office buildings, categorized by number of stories, remained the same.

Ranking by expense

Among the four office building designations set out in the table and graphs, it is most expensive to build a medical office facility. Among commercial office buildings, the dollar-per-square-foot construction cost diminishes with height. It is about 10% cheaper to build an 11- to 20-story building than a five- to 10-story building. In turn, a five- to 10-story office building is about 4% cheaper to build than one that is two- to four-stories tall.

New York is the most expensive; cities in the South are least expensive

New York has the highest dollar-per-square-foot construction costs in the country. San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia are the other centers that make up the top five among major U.S. urban areas. Relatively low-cost cities are mainly in the southeast and southwest, including Miami, Phoenix, Atlanta, Houston and Dallas. New Orleans is also low cost despite the restoration that has been underway since Hurricane Katrina.

Kansas City, St. Louis, Portland and Pittsburgh are smack dab in the middle among the 25 cities considered in the table and graphs. Cleveland, Washington and Denver are in the low mid-range for construction costs among the 25 cities considered. Seattle, San Diego and Detroit are upper middle-range. Minneapolis is sixth most expensive in the nation.

On the Pacific Coast, dollar-per-square foot construction costs in Los Angeles, Seattle and San Diego are between 13% and 16% lower than in high-cost San Francisco. Portland is nearly one-fifth (18%) less expensive for building than the City by the Bay.

Some other city comparisons

In some other city comparisons, it now costs about 32% more to build in Chicago than in Atlanta. The relationship is almost the same (+28%) between higher-cost Philadelphia and lower-cost Miami. The mark-up in New York, the most expensive city among the 25 shown, and Winston-Salem, N.C., the least expensive, is almost three-quarters (+74%).

Percentage changes by type and by city

Year-over-year cost comparisons can only be made for commercial office buildings. The year-over-year change for a medical office building is invalid due to specification upgrades.

Pittsburgh, Boston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, New York, Seattle and Chicago have turned in the largest year-over-year percentage gains in square footage costs. In no case, however, has the increase been particularly large. Pittsburgh, at +2.8% for a 5- to 10-story office building, was the largest. The average for the 25 cities combined ranged from -0.1% for a 5- to 10-story office building to -1.7% for an 11- to 20-story office building.

Atlanta, Houston, Washington and California’s three major centers – San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco – have recorded the largest percentage declines year over year.

Kansas City, Detroit, Denver, Dallas, Portland, Cleveland, Miami, Baltimore and St. Louis are centrally positioned for year-over-year price changes among the 25 cities.

U.S. dollars per square foot construction costs –
By type of structure – February 2010
    MAJOR CITIES
(alphabetically)
office building
(two to four stories)
office building
(five to 10 stories)
2010 2009   % Change 2010 2009   % Change
1   ATLANTA $153.00 $158.75   -3.6% $147.26 $150.72   -2.3%
2   BALTIMORE 160.74 163.86   -1.9% 154.72 155.57   -0.5%
3   BOSTON 204.80 203.10   0.8% 197.12 192.83   2.2%
4   CHICAGO 201.18 202.22   -0.5% 193.64 192.00   0.9%
5   CLEVELAND 172.10 175.12   -1.7% 165.65 166.26   -0.4%
6   DALLAS 148.18 150.30   -1.4% 142.62 142.70   -0.1%
7   DENVER 164.87 167.20   -1.4% 158.69 158.75   0.0%
8   DETROIT 179.16 181.63   -1.4% 172.44 172.45   0.0%
9   HOUSTON 150.42 155.41   -3.2% 144.78 147.55   -1.9%
10   KANSAS CITY 177.78 179.70   -1.1% 171.12 170.61   0.3%
11   LOS ANGELES 186.21 190.61   -2.3% 179.23 180.97   -1.0%
12   MIAMI 156.09 158.93   -1.8% 150.24 150.89   -0.4%
13   MINNEAPOLIS 194.82 193.25   0.8% 187.52 183.48   2.2%
14   NEW ORLEANS 153.17 156.46   -2.1% 147.43 148.55   -0.8%
15   NEW YORK CITY 230.79 230.03   0.3% 222.14 218.40   1.7%
16   PHILADELPHIA 199.98 199.23   0.4% 192.49 189.16   1.8%
17   PHOENIX 153.51 156.64   -2.0% 147.76 148.72   -0.6%
18   PITTSBURGH 174.17 171.78   1.4% 167.64 163.09   2.8%
19   PORTLAND 174.85 177.76   -1.6% 168.30 168.77   -0.3%
20   ST. LOUIS 177.61 181.10   -1.9% 170.95 171.95   -0.6%
21   SAN DIEGO 179.84 184.98   -2.8% 173.10 175.62   -1.4%
22   SAN FRANCISCO 213.06 217.89   -2.2% 205.07 206.87   -0.9%
23   SEATTLE 183.29 182.86   0.2% 176.42 173.62   1.6%
24   WASHINGTON, DC 171.07 175.47   -2.5% 164.66 166.60   -1.2%
25   WINSTON-SALEM 132.69 138.51   -4.2% 127.72 131.51   -2.9%
MAJOR CITIES
(alphabetically)
office building
(11 to 20 stories)
medical office building
2010 2009 % Change 2010 2009 % Change
1   ATLANTA $132.86 $138.19   -3.9% $191.09 $171.79   n/a
2   BALTIMORE 139.59 142.63   -2.1% 200.76 177.31   n/a
3   BOSTON 177.85 176.79   0.6% 255.79 219.78   n/a
4   CHICAGO 174.71 176.03   -0.7% 251.28 218.83   n/a
5   CLEVELAND 149.45 152.43   -2.0% 214.95 189.50   n/a
6   DALLAS 128.68 130.83   -1.6% 185.07 162.64   n/a
7   DENVER 143.17 145.54   -1.6% 205.92 180.93   n/a
8   DETROIT 155.58 158.10   -1.6% 223.76 196.54   n/a
9   HOUSTON 130.62 135.28   -3.4% 187.87 168.17   n/a
10   KANSAS CITY 154.38 156.42   -1.3% 222.04 194.45   n/a
11   LOS ANGELES 161.70 165.92   -2.5% 232.58 206.26   n/a
12   MIAMI 135.55 138.34   -2.0% 194.96 171.98   n/a
13   MINNEAPOLIS 169.18 168.21   0.6% 243.32 209.11   n/a
14   NEW ORLEANS 133.01 136.19   -2.3% 191.31 169.31   n/a
15   NEW YORK CITY 200.41 200.23   0.1% 288.25 248.92   n/a
16   PHILADELPHIA 173.66 173.42   0.1% 249.77 215.59   n/a
17   PHOENIX 133.31 136.35   -2.2% 191.74 169.50   n/a
18   PITTSBURGH 151.24 149.52   1.2% 217.53 185.88   n/a
19   PORTLAND 151.84 154.73   -1.9% 218.39 192.35   n/a
20   ST. LOUIS 154.23 157.64   -2.2% 221.83 195.97   n/a
21   SAN DIEGO 156.18 161.01   -3.0% 224.62 200.16   n/a
22   SAN FRANCISCO 185.02 189.66   -2.4% 266.11 235.78   n/a
23   SEATTLE 159.16 159.17   0.0% 228.92 197.88   n/a
24   WASHINGTON, DC 148.55 152.74   -2.7% 213.66 189.88   n/a
25   WINSTON-SALEM 115.23 120.57   -4.4% 165.73 149.88   n/a
Data source: Reed Construction Data – RSMeans.
Tables: Reed Construction Data – CanaData

Office building (two to four stories) construction cost:
February 2010 ranking of major U.S. cities
Office building ( five to 10 stories) construction cost:
February 2010 ranking of major U.S. cities
Office building (11-20 stories) construction cost:
February 2010 ranking of major U.S. cities
Medical office building construction cost:
February 2010 ranking of major U.S. cities
These charts and tables were abstracted from RSMeans cost data publications for the A/E/C industry. For more information about RSMeans Square Foot Cost Guide and RSMeans CCI (Construction Cost Index), which indexes square foot costs for cities in the U.S. and Canada, visit the online bookstore at www.rsmeans.com and click on cost data publications (or call 1-800-448-8182). “n/a” means not applicable. Recent adjustments to specifications mean that some year-over-year percentage changes will not be valid in 2010.
Data source: Reed Construction Data – RSMeans (www.rsmeans.com).
Charts: Reed Construction Data – CanaData