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A Swelling Show

Developers, brokers, leasing agents and businesses associated with the retail real estate industry are expected to convene May 20 to 23 at the ICSC Spring Convention in Las Vegas.

Certain to be among the many topics of discussion this year as in previous years are: lifestyle centers, luxury retail, and capital investments from California-based companies.

One of the big issues during this year's conference will be California, which has been the epicenter for the investment market and home to a towering fountain of acquisition money.

“There is a lot of California money going out into the nation buying significant assets,” says Richard Walter, president of Faris Lee Investments, a national retail brokerage firm based in Irvine, Calif.

Despite rising interest rates and a slump in the housing sector, the industry is still gearing up for another hotbed of deal-making. ICSC estimates some 50,000 people will attend the four-day convention.

The resilience of the American consumer has surprised industry watchers. “This is a very resilient economy — interest rates, home rates, foreclosure rates — nothing is depressing people,” says Robert Cohen, executive vice president at Robert K. Futterman and Associates LLC, a New York-based retail broker. “This has been a great time for retail developers.”

As has been the case in the past, there will certainly be representatives from both private and public capital ventures looking to invest in the retail real estate market. Industry experts expect to see continued interest in lifestyle, mixed-use and hybrid centers, among others.

Power centers and grocery-anchored shopping centers on both the East and West Coasts, and in the Northwest, are expected to be on the top of some investors' lists. With their lower operating costs, they're sparking a great amount of interest says Walter. He adds, we could also see a comeback this year of investments for “well-positioned” malls; specifically those in thriving markets, with prime locations and a good tenant mix.

“I think the malls are redefining themselves,” Walter adds, “there hasn't been a tremendous amount of mall sales in the past few years and that may pick up.” Development of lifestyle centers will continue to dominate, cite industry observers.

Another trend that industry analysts say conventioneers will be assessing is the future for luxury retailers. Designer apparel, upscale restaurants and spas have seen tremendous growth over the past several years, and are expected to be even more robust throughout 2008. Numerous European luxury retailers are said to be eyeing major U.S. markets including New York, Miami and Las Vegas. The resort communities of Naples, Fla., Scottsdale, Ariz., and those in North and South Carolina are on the shopping list as well, according to Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of retail leasing and sales division for the New York-based brokerage firm Prudential Douglas Elliman.

“We are very, very fortunate that the consumer across the country has not stopped shopping,” Consolo says. “That's why the Europeans are coming to America — they know it's a country of shopaholics.”

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