The retail real estate business has bounced back, but it’s unclear just how big the bounce will be.
After recession-era pronouncements about the demise of the mall and the takeover of brick-and-mortar by online competitors cast a pall over the sector in the past few years, shopping-center owners and operators are now decidedly cheery that most retailers seem to have turned the corner, retail unit growth is being considered again, shoppers haven’t abandoned malls and retail rents are increasing at core properties and streets.
But questions raised during the recession remain, including the fate of middle-income consumers, the sort of store footprints suited to a digital world, the retail environments that should be cultivated to pull people away from their devices, and the lack of new mall development.
“Business is better,” declared Peter Lowy, co-chief executive officer of Westfield Group, the world’s largest mall owner with 105 shopping centers in five countries, which saw net profits advance 18.3 percent in 2012 to 1.72 billion Australian dollars, or roughly $1.66 billion at current exchange, and average specialty rents at U.S. malls rise 2.3 percent for the year to $63.56 a square foot. “We are comfortable that the recovery that has been going on for the last two or three years, while slow, is continuing. Retailers are expanding. There is big demand for the top centers around the world.”
The recent International Council of Shopping Centers RECon in Las Vegas reflected the renewed confidence. “There’s a lot more optimism and definitely a risk on versus risk off mentality,” said Anthony Buono, executive managing director for retail services at commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE Group Inc. “The mood is positive,” concurred Rick Caruso, founder and ceo of Caruso Affiliated, owner of The Grove, The Americana at Brand and The Commons at Calabasas in the Los Angeles area, among other properties. “The bankers realize their job is more challenging. That means there is a good economy, and they have competition.”
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