Many of the near-50,000 attendees of the 2008 International Council of Shopping Centers’ (ICSC) conference, RECon, held May 18-21, came to the show with plenty of questions: What would the mood at the convention be? Would the economic slump slow the customary deal-making frenzy?

Chain Store Age, on hand for what has become a smorgasbord of malls and halls, and national and international projects—and pedometers that clock up to 12 miles of steps a day—queried a number of attendees about the climate, the projects and the future of retail. Most of the responses were surprisingly positive.

“We have actually had more meetings—1,400—this year than last year’s 1,200,” said Scott Schroeder, VP of marketing and corporate communications for Beachwood, Ohio-based Developers Diversified Realty. “And we’re not getting the bad news one might have expected. Target is expanding, Wal-Mart is expanding. Municipalities are looking for strong developers and strong centers. The outlook is optimistic,” Schroeder said.

Joe Coradino, president of Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), agreed. “Today I met with two retail CEOs, both quality retailers, and both said, ‘We see the current climate as an opportunity to grow our market share,’” said Coradino. “It’s about survival of the fittest.” Coradino predicted that the top retailers will survive, even thrive, as the economy squeezes the bottom retail layer into extinction.

A topic that rang almost as loudly as the economy was sustainability. The green movement is clearly here to stay, and both developers and retailers are jumping on the environmental bandwagon. Chain Store Age talked with green stalwart Regency Centers, Jacksonville, Fla., about its green programs and status.

“We are at the point of transitioning from sustainable concepts to implementation,” said Scott Wilson, VP of construction. To propel the implementation piece forward, Wilson heads a Regency task force that includes the company’s four construction VPs around the country. The companywide green vision, however, is spearheaded by Mark Peternell, VP of sustainability.

“As Regency projects achieve LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certification, I will be evaluating costs, savings and environmental performance in order to ascertain best practices—what is working and what isn’t,” explained Peternell. “I also want to see retailers not only cooperate with the sustainability process, but actually help drive it.” Regency joined other green leaders, including Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises, in sponsoring a “Shopping Center Industry Goes Green” handbook distributed to RECon attendees.

Chattanooga, Tenn.-based CBL & Associates Properties publicized its corporate-wide sustainability program, to be overseen by senior project manager and director of sustainability Jim Williamson, underscoring that green is indeed becoming a major initiative among forward-thinking shopping center developers.

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