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Industry Upbeat as Show Starts

Increasing talk of a real estate bubble is not fazing industry executives heading into this year’s ICSC Spring Convention. In fact, most think the mood is the most upbeat it’s ever been.

“Look at all the things happening now,” says Joe Cosenza, president of the Inland Real Estate Group of Companies Inc. “Retail sales are up. Interest rates are still low. There is a tremendous amount of real estate changing hands. It’s an exciting, booming time.”

Cosenza has one mission for the show: hunt for more acquisitions for Inland, which now ranks as the fifth largest U.S. owner of retail real estate, according to Retail Traffic’s annual survey. The first half of this year has already witnessed several large portfolio sales—the biggest being Regency Center’s and Macquarie Country Wide Trust of Australia’s $2.74 billion acquisition of First Washington Trust from the California Public Employees Retirement System. For its part, Inland has closed on more than $1 billion in acquisitions in 2005, on pace to eclipse its 2004 total.

Where’s the most growth expected? Florida, according to a just released report from Trammell Crow Co. Florida will be a huge focus for both development and investment, driven largely by the aging population, Trammell Crow said. Demographic studies project that in the next 10 years Florida will grow by 250,000 to 300,000 people annually. That breaks down to 1,200 new people to Central Florida each week alone.

Trammell Crow infers from this data that since it takes 30,000 people to support a typical grocery store, Florida could support 25 to 30 new stores a year. Last year, 73 shopping centers opened in the state, according to the National Research Bureau’s Shopping Center Census. On the investment side, 169 strip centers changed hands in 2004—up from 144 in 2003 and 125 in 2002.

Beyond consolidation, redevelopment will again be a big theme. Companies will be pushing traditional redevelopments of properties as well as those that incorporate mixed-use components such as hotels, office space or housing.

“It seems like everybody is out there crowing about redevelopment opportunities,” says Andrew Blocher, vice president of capital markets and investor relations for Federal Realty Investment Trust. “I don’t know if it has become a significantly larger part of the business, but it seems people are talking about it more.”

CBL & Associates Properties Inc., for example, is adding lifestyle center components to some of its regional malls. “It’s a way of accommodating tenants that typically go into open-air centers into the mall format,” says Michael Lebovitz, senior vice president of CBL. At the show, they will showcase a lifestyle component it is adding to the Harford Mall in Bel Air, Md.

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