By  on May 16, 2005

NEW YORK — Ongoing retail consolidation doesn't seem to trouble James E. Maurin, who has a pointed way of depicting the fallout from such mergers and buyouts. Traditional malls, excluding the strong super regionals and "A" malls, will ultimately house two or three department stores, compared with the four or five currently operating, said Maurin, chairman of the International Council of Shopping Centers, during a recent interview.

"Quite honestly, you don't see any great panic by the mall owners," Maurin added. "The mood is about as good as I have seen it in a long time. I believe we've had such a phenomenal run in the retail real estate world. It's been pushing 10 years now. What's so interesting about this moment in time is that some very strong, positive factors are driving both retail and property performance at the same time. The economy is growing, albeit at 3 to 4 percent, and department stores have righted themselves.

"A lot of the consolidation is very positive. I was much more worried about the department store industry five years ago than I am today."

Anchor fatigue, and the accelerating rate of retail takeovers and consolidations — Federated Department Stores' takeover of May Co., the Sears-Kmart merger, Saks Inc. selling stores to Belk — will be a big conversation topic in the corridors of next week's ICSC spring convention in Las Vegas, May 22-25. Developers, too, were caught up in merger fever over the past year, with General Growth Properties Inc. buying The Rouse Co., and Simon Property Group buying Chelsea Property Group, among other deals.

Many in the expected crowd of 40,000 at the convention will be speculating on what retailer will be sold next, the fate of such venerable nameplates as Lord & Taylor and Marshall Field's as they fall under different owners ready to streamline, and what properties developers shed or redevelop to cut debt and focus operations. "Back to Business" is the theme for the convention, but it might well be called "Anchors Away."

"Property owners are taking lost anchors and converting them to lifestyle components," said Maurin, who is also the chairman of Stirling Properties, a regional developer based in Covington, La. Stirling manages more than 7.3 million square feet, including open-air shopping centers and regional malls, as well as offices, industrial and residential projects. Stirling has more than $143 million of commercial property and over $138 million in residential listings for sale.

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