Developers are lightening up.

So what if mall traffic has been sapped by rising gas prices, high unemployment and Internet usage, and mall development in the U.S. has dried up. They see a future in downtown revitalizations, retrofitting malls, building outlet centers and forming partnerships overseas, primarily in Brazil, China, the Middle East and India, where there’s emerging consumerism and opportunities to build.

Developers generally had a good first quarter, buoyed by traffic that’s better than they’ve seen in awhile, and good retail sales. Yet it is a tale of two halves: The nation’s top malls, in major urban centers and tourist destinations, sometimes referred to as “A” malls, continue to show improving performances, while many “B” and “C” malls in secondary and tertiary markets still struggle and disappear.

“It was a really good quarter, especially for the property owners with the better malls,” said Glenn Rufrano, president and chief executive officer of Cushman & Wakefield Inc. “Expectations are for good results for the year. Occupancy rates and rents are increasing.”

Rufrano said that overall for malls, traffic has been declining, but it’s primarily the case in B malls. “I don’t think there is any question of mall viability as a concept. The As will be here. How many B malls there will be, that’s a question. It really depends on where they are and what’s the competition. A C mall is a mall that’s just dead.”

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Further optimism is being fueled by retailers being generally in good financial positions, having honed their operations to survive the great recession, and now many are looking for space for existing or emerging formats. There are also several overseas retailers eager to gain turf in America. Among the ones to watch: Joe Fresh, Desigual, Uniqlo, Topshop, Tesco Fresh and Marks & Spencer’s Simply Food. Zara and H&M continue to expand.

On the homegrown front, Forever 21, Gap Inc.’s Athleta, CityTarget, Urban Outfitters Inc.’s Free People, Bloomingdale’s, Wal-Mart Express, Victoria Secret’s Pink and even Lord & Taylor, which this year started opening stores after a 10-year hiatus, are among the retailers on the move, while Gap and Best Buy are aggressively closing stores.


"In a sense, retail is becoming bifurcated," said Michael Fascitelli, president and ceo of Vornado Realty Trust, referring to so-called "A," "B" and "C" malls. "The good gets better and the less good gets worse. The internet is exacerbating that."

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