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May 24, 2018 — Just back home to Miami after my 35th year in a row attending the International Council of Shopping Center’s annual RECon convention in Las Vegas with a big team from Terranova. It was an intimate gathering of nearly 40,000 of our closest friends in the retail real estate industry including tenants, lenders, debt and equity capital providers, owners, developers and all the attendant professionals and vendors from lawyers and architects, to maintenance companies, title firms to sign companies, and on and on and on . . .
“This year was different” is a thought I have every year. Foremost this year is that my two sons, both in the industry, Daniel with Global Fund and Ari, working on his own endeavors to establish himself in Miami’s real estate market after moving from New York, were at the convention. I was proud to have them dine with us in the evening, prior to my usual early bedtime.
Traffic on the trade show flow seemed less than last year, but still way above 2009, the darkest moment in the industry. Much of the chatter was about experiential retail, something Terranova has been talking and writing about for a few years: we need to give people a reason to visit our properties. Food Halls are all the rage and Terranova is right there with our Lincoln Eatery, just off Lincoln Road, getting set to turn over spaces to our tenants in the next weeks for them to get ready for a winter opening. The brick and mortar retail competition with the internet is an ongoing topic, combined with the retail/ecommerce industrial surge. We got that message loud and clear with our purchase in December 2017, of the Pepsi distribution facility on the Palmetto Expressway (State Road 826) in the city of Doral where we plan to build a state of the art industrial park on the final, last mile site to Miami International Airport. So, we felt good that we were focused on all the right things.
The usual world of parties was meaningfully restrained from prior years for a variety of reasons: cost containment in a transaction reduced market, an era of great transition in social interactions, and the overlap with the Jewish holiday of Shavuos. Attendees seem to have arrived later than usual and most departed on Tuesday, making it a shorter than usual trip.
Leasing activity seems steady, but measured, with every deal taking a bit longer but with leases getting done. Service retail and restaurant uses seem to lead the way. Capital markets transactions seem influenced by caution as well with the slow ascent of interest rates giving pause to most buyers. The best assets in the best markets still seem to price well with lots of buyers as almost a trillion dollars of capital for this sector raised and unspent, worldwide. Anything less than the best—has much less interest and unsatisfying pricing for the sellers, with pricing definitely off the peak. Fund buyers need to keep putting out money, while REIT and private buyers have pulled back, negatively impacting pricing as compared to two years or more ago.
Overall, in a world of internet retailers going to bricks and mortar stores, and old-line retailers trying to find their path forward, we continue to experience the continual evolution of retail, in malls, open air centers, and high street retail. The change is what keeps it interesting, and our challenge to stay ahead of the change is what keeps us awake at night and engaged. Retail real estate continues to provide a significant gathering place for people to stay connected to one another and seems to have a secure but changing place in our economic ecosphere going forward.