Real Estate’s 10 Under 40

BY Michael Fickes

In an era where brick-and-mortar retailers face increasing challenges from the Internet and a still slow recovery, they must rely on their real estate staff — particularly those under the age of 40 — more than ever before. These professionals, who bridge the "tried-and-true" methods of their mentors and the technology-driven next generation, are creating the stores, the shopping centers, the streets of today and tomorrow. Based on nominations from their peers, Chain Store Age has selected 10 of these pros to watch, both in the near term and for years to come.

Clary H. Groen, age 39

VP real estate and construction Francesca’s Collections


Clary Groen heads up the real estate and construction efforts of one of the nation’s hottest and fastest-growing retail companies: Francesca’s Collections. Targeting young women with an eclectic mix of trendy but affordable accessories and apparel, the chain is booming. During the past five years, Francesca’s has grown from 80 stores to some 360. And there’s no let-up in sight: The company plans to open 80 stores in its current fiscal year, reaching the milestone of more than 400 locations by the end of the first quarter.

Groen, a finance MBA, didn’t start out in real estate. But after three years of serving as a business analyst for Payless ShoeSource, he went to his boss looking for a different type of challenge. He found it in the real estate department at Payless and, later, at EB Games and Chico’s FAS.

In 2008, Groen was recruited to Francesca’s, charged with setting up a real estate and construction department (both functions had, up until then, been outsourced). Making the decision to leave the well-established Chico’s chain to join what was then a small, regional outfit with 75 stores involved a big personal and professional leap of faith. But Groen did it, moving his family from Atlanta to Houston. Looking back, he said it was one of the best decisions of his life.

At Francesca’s, Groen started from scratch, building a department as the chain started to gain momentum. In 2008, it tested three mall stores, a real estate strategy that it had not previously pursued. The stores were a big hit, and helped to pave the way for Francesca’s hugely successful IPO in 2011.

As for his early finance training, Groen said it has proved invaluable in securing real estate and building stores. So have his creative instincts.

"I have extremely high standards for creativity," Groen said. "I constantly challenge our group to challenge the status quo, to do things in a way others do not."

Jason Richter, age 34

VP real estate, Perfumania

Bellport, N. Y.

From e-commerce to working with landlords to creating retail stores, Richter has a 360-degree view of retail.

"Perspective is everything," he said. "It makes you empathetic to the person on the other side of the table."

Shortly after earning his BBA in Information Systems, Richter founded Dynaquest, a developer of e-commerce platforms for brick-and-mortar retailers. He later divested the company and joined Thor Equities, where he oversaw a multibillion-dollar real estate portfolio.

After six years on the landlord side, Richter made the leap to retail and joined New York favorite Jimmy Jazz, a Brooklyn-based urban apparel and footwear retailer, as VP real estate. In March 2012, he joined Perfumania, where he is responsible for the global expansion of the company’s retail division, overseeing new site selection and the company’s existing retail portfolio of more than 350 stores throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.

As VP real estate for a national retailer, Richter finds that his technology background is more helpful than ever.

"It’s definitely more of a global environment," he said. "Retailers and landlords are doing business all over the world. You have to understand and utilize all the available tools."

Bryan C. Cook, age 35

Regional director of real estate, CVS Caremark Corp.

Woonsocket, R.I.

Bryan Cook got an early start, arriving at CVS Caremark Corp. during his senior year of college. He liked the company so much that he is still there.

"It was at CVS that I learned about blending the ‘art’ of real estate — field work and negotiation — with the ‘science’ of real estate — spatial analytics and financial modeling. And that’s what excites me to this day," Cook said.

Cook is very much aware of the advantages that technology, particularly geographic information systems and spatial analytics, offers the current generation of real estate professionals. It has proved especially helpful as retail’s approach to real estate has become more focused.

"The right methodology can not only streamline the whole process, but also drastically lower site evaluation costs across the board," Cook explained.

As a retail real estate professional, Cook is impressed by the amount of creativity he sees in the retail community.

"I expect that to be the norm as our retail environment continues to change," he added.

Jennifer Green, age 35

U.S. real estate manager, Pet Valu

Wayne, Pa.

It was a temporary job at Albertson’s that led Jennifer Green to her present position, U.S. real estate manager for the Canadian-based, 350-plus—store Pet Valu chain.

Green gained a wealth of experience at Albertsons, where she eventually went full time and joined the supermarket company’s development program, a rarity in the industry.

"It was a progressive program, and in order to get to each new level, you had to have a checklist that consisted of everything from completing a remodel, a fuel center, a new store deal and surplus real estate," Green explained.

By 2007, Albertsons’ expansion had slowed and the chain decided to focus on remodels. Green moved to parent Supervalu, where she worked on expanding the Acme division. However, once again, expansion slowed. It proved frustrating for Green.

"I enjoyed negotiating deals," Green said. "There really wasn’t anything for me to do."

Enter Markham, Ontario-based PetValu, which was looking to expand in the United States. Green joined the pet supply chain in 2011 and, in just over 12 months, she identified and signed leases on more than 60 new locations from New England through the Mid-Atlantic — all while also managing renewals and remodels of existing PetValu locations.

"The pet industry didn’t stop growing during the downturn," said Green, who works out of the company’s U.S. headquarters in Wayne, Pa. "Pet Valu developed a boutique concept that was well received, and has a lot of capital to expand. It’s really been our time."

Jason LaVeglia, age 38

Senior VP/head of retail real estate, TD Bank

Toronto, Canada

After earning a degree in civil engineering, Jason LaVeglia decided the field didn’t offer the creativity he needed.

"It was too analytical and one-dimensional for me," he said. "I really couldn’t find myself crunching numbers from a desk. I liked being outside."

LaVeglia found a career that satisfied his creative bent and love of the outdoors when he began building convenience stores for Exxon. He went on to build fast-food restaurants for Yum! Brands, and then joined the Cosi casual restaurant chain.

"Cosi gave me the opportunity to own a whole footprint, which was a phenomenal experience," LaVeglia said. "It allowed me to think about strategic alliances. It was a way for me, at a young age, to see real estate through a different lens."

In 2003, LaVeglia joined Commerce Bank (now TD Bank) as a project manager. He moved quickly up through the ranks and, in 2011, was named to his current position of senior VP and head of retail real estate. TD’s retail portfolio consists of 1,375 locations and almost 5.5 million sq. ft. of space. LaVeglia is responsible for the bank’s retail real estate strategy, site selection, transactions and all phases of construction.

Over the last fiscal year, LaVeglia managed a capital budget of $207 million, and completed construction on 48 LEED-certified stores and renovation of more than 130 locations. Currently, he is leading TD’s strategy to expand its presence in New York City, with a goal of opening 60 new locations by 2015.

Despite a hefty workload, LaVeglia still finds time to speak at colleges and job fairs.

"I love to recruit people into real estate from finance and marketing," he said. "My favorite part of the business is strategy — to be able to dive into a business and see how I can positively impact it."

Stacey Gilham, age 36

Founder/CEO, Retail Live!

Senior VP leasing, Edge Realty Partners

Austin, Texas

Doing double duty has helped Stacey Gilham truly indulge her love of the deal, a career path she came to reluctantly.

"My entire family is in the residential sector," she said. "I had always refused to be a part of the business."

Helping a family member lease a commercial space in Florida, however, led to a job with Benderson Development.

"It sounded like a lot of fun," Gilham said. "Benderson Development was the perfect training ground, as it was a ‘sink or swim’ environment. You either made it or you didn’t."

Gilham was one of those who made it. After positions with various real estate companies, she joined Edge Realty Partners as senior VP leasing, a position she is still in today.

After moving to Austin, Texas, to join Edge, Gilham also took on another challenge. In 2011, she founded Retail Live!, a national networking company focused on bringing retailers together with landlords, brokers and developers.

"We all go to different types of networking events," said Gilham, founder and CEO. "The impetus for Retail Live! came from the idea that it would be great to take the good points of the different types of events and put them all together.’"

Retail Live! conducts retailer-centric networking programs that are both productive and entertaining, and which complement events run by trade associations. Gilham is responsible for securing the commitments of the participating retailers and program sponsors, as well as promoting Retail Live! nationally. And all this while she continues with her "day job at Edge."

"I wake up at 4:45 a.m. and respond to emails," she said. "Or I do them when I put the kids to bed. I’m a leasing addict and deal junkie like most in our industry. I genuinely enjoy what I do."

Johnny Bauman, age 31

Director of real estate & construction, Global Franchise Group

Norcross, Ga.

Of all of the professionals on this year’s list, Johnny Bauman is the only real estate major. But that’s not to say his career turned out exactly as he planned.

"I never thought in a million years that I’d be on a construction team, let alone head a department," said Bauman, whose company, Global Franchise Group, owns Great American Cookies, Pretzelmaker, Marble Slab Creamery and The Athletes Foot. "I can barely hold a hammer. I trust others."

Bauman started in the industry right out of college, as a real estate coordinator for Marble Slab Creamery, a mom-and-pop ice cream concept that was bought out by NexCen Brands. He stayed with NexCen and worked his way up, overseeing the expansion of the company’s other brands. (NexCen in 2012 sold its franchise business to Global Franchise Group, which continues to add brands to its portfolio.) In 2012, he opened more than 115 stores. Other accomplishments include leading the conceptualization, development and implementation of a complete redesign and rollout of Great American Cookies and Marble Slab Creamery’s new store designs.

New banners within his own organization aren’t the only changes Bauman has seen in the industry.

"Seven years ago, it seemed like much more of a good old boy network," he said. "Now it’s much more open to ideas. It’s less about golfing and now about networking."

Holly Jensen, age 36

Real estate manager, Smart & Final

Commerce, Calif.

In a way, Holly Jensen’s career is an early version of "clicks to bricks." The psychology major was a recruiter for Internet companies during the dot-com boom. But when the boom went bust, so did the job.

Although she had no knowledge of real estate, the resourceful Jensen landed a leasing and asset management associate position with Center Trust, the Los Angeles-based developer.

"It was a good basis," Jensen said.

In 2002, she joined CB Richard Ellis, where she helped drug store operator CVS Caremark reestablish itself in the Southern California market.

"That’s when I really learned to fall in love with real estate," Jensen said. "It was ground up, dirt digging. CVS would let me go on the tours with them. I’m very analytical and I also love creativity. In a way, it’s the perfect job for me."

Jensen caught the attention of CVS rival Rite Aid. As director of real estate – West for the chain, she put together more than 25 drug store deals in less than three years. In 2011, she joined Los Angeles-based grocery store retailer Smart & Final as a real estate manager, looking for locations throughout California and other Western states. Growing up shopping at Smart & Final only increased the appeal of the company.

"I’ve always stuck with the drug and grocery sectors," Jensen said. "Even when you can’t buy anything else, you have to buy your groceries."

Seth Parker, age 35

Senior real estate manager, Pacific Dental Services; Founder, SiteTour

Irvine, Calif.

Seth Parker has a knack for understatement — and a talent for multitasking. "I have a lot going on," he said.

Parker’s full-time job is opening Pacific Dental offices around the country, personally working on more than half of the 70-plus stores the company expects to open next year. And then there’s SiteTour, the company he launched after first-hand glimpses — as senior real estate manager for Panera Bread and then his current job at Pacific Dental — of technological gaps in the industry.

"I saw some holes in how we did business, and that we could add some things," Parker said. His SiteTour company develops technological solutions for the retail real estate industry, as well as implements custom Web and mobile solutions — and the recently launched, an intuitive iPad tourbook solution for brokers and retailers, supplants the typical paper tourbook. "A tourbook inevitably misses something. The iPad lets you put in everything," said Parker. Parker also indulges his love of architecture with his blog, Retail Remix, which profiles redevelopments. "[Blogging] allows you to pursue a passion, and the barrier to entry is very, very light," he said.

Greg Smith, age 37

Senior director of real estate, Sport Clips

Georgetown, Texas

Talk about career shifts. Greg Smith originally wanted to be a financial planner and help people save money. Now, he finds new locations where people can spend money.

Despite sticking with finance long enough to get the degree and the job with a financial firm, Smith knew it wasn’t for the long haul. He made a contact inside the real estate department at Sally Beauty Supply, and found a new career that proved more to his liking. After moving his way up to a senior real estate manager at Sally, Smith joined Sport Clips in 2003. It had about 100 locations, but was clearly on the fast track.

"I always wanted to be with a company that was growing," he said. "And Sport Clips had a wow factor."

The company has expanded aggressively over the past 10 years, with the recession giving it entrée into centers that would not have considered the tenant in the past. (As Smith noted, haircuts are recession-resistant.) It now operates more than 950 stores, and expects to open its 1,000th store by yearend. Smith has been instrumental in that growth, overseeing all site packages submitted, approving plans, overseeing the construction process, and maintaining relationships with landlords and brokers for the development of new stores.

Sport Clips has a detailed site-selection process and utilizes the latest technology. But old-fashioned techniques still apply as well.

"From the real estate perspective, being there in person, evaluating the synergy and the flow of the center is still important," Smith said.


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Growing On All Fronts


Editor’s Note: Chain Store Age’s 24th annual survey of Fastest-Growing Managers measures new domestic and international third-party management and leasing contracts obtained during the preceding calendar year (2012).

Last year’s numbers were such that we couldn’t limit our annual Fastest-Growing third-party managers listing to a top five; a sixth was added because the contract totals were that close.

The tallying took time, as Chain Store Age received near-record-level submissions. From the intake, it is clear that growing via the 3P route is part of the shopping center owner’s standard expansion formula.

1. CB Richard Ellis

Going global is a key to growth for CBRE, which landed 17 million sq. ft. in management-only contracts, and 70 million sq. ft. worldwide in leasing contracts globally last year.

The largest single contributor to the total is the 2.2 million-sq.-ft. Puerto Venecia in Zaragoza, Spain, the largest mall in the country. Owners British Land and Orion Capital Managers’ Orion European Real Estate Fund III refer to the project as a "shopping resort," said Ana Colom Monfort, retail management director in CBRE’s Barcelona office.

"You can spend the whole day," as the project also includes an ice rink, pre-selected music and more to create a specific ambience, she said.

The company also is involved in Morocco and Poland. Yet the brand remains consistent, said Todd Caruso, senior managing director, Americas, CBRE Retail Agency Service, Bannockburn, Ill. "You would think that as you talk to counterparts in Asia and the Pacific that there would be a totally different way of representing the brand," Caruso said. "And sure, there are separate nuances from country to country. But all our associates share our core values: respect, integrity, service and excellence."

Deciding where and when to open a new office is a matter of opportunity, though Caruso is intrigued by one emerging market. "I’m looking forward to building our agency business in South America," he said. "That’s pretty promising."

2. Jones Lang LaSalle Retail

In a sense, two is the charm for second-ranked Jones Lang LaSalle, which added 14.4 million sq. ft. of third-party contracts last year.

The company’s growth comes from a series of dualities: offering the benefits of a global company with local teams, operating in both large and small markets, and serving both enclosed and open-air centers.

"It has to do with not only the management of these assets but having the local brokers," said Greg Maloney, president and CEO, Retail, Americas, Atlanta. "We need the on-the-ground experts. The two go hand-in-hand."

A number of years ago, JLL added managing open-air projects to its traditional mall expertise, resulting in significant growth. Now JLL is adding a third retail category: urban locations. "We aim to be the best in the market, and to be in the markets our clients want to be," Maloney said.

That includes markets that many might consider secondary or tertiary, which many retailers may have neglected during the Great Recession. But there was, and is, plenty of opportunity in smaller municipalities.

"The recovery was focused on the biggest cities, coastal cities. Big cities get all the play," Maloney noted. "But what about Albuquerque, N.M.?"

3. Mid-America Asset Management

Investments can take a bit of time to pay off, and third-ranked Mid-America Asset Management’s opening of an office in West Bloomfield, Mich., just a couple of years ago is now seeing results.

The Wolverine State accounts for nearly 2.6 million sq. ft. of the firm’s 10.5 million sq. ft. of new assignments in 2012.

"This is a pretty good market for regional and institutional investors," said Michelle Panovich, a principal of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based Mid-America. A few of its large-portfolio clients had made acquisitions in the area.

In addition, several of Mid-America’s partners are from Michigan, "so we feel strongly about it in a different way," Panovich added.

Even so, that expansion follows Mid-America’s philosophy of opening satellite offices after working with local businesses. The company opened an office in Milwaukee after doing business with professionals in the area. More expansion is possible, as long as it meshes with Mid-America’s strategy.

"We definitely are open to doing it, if something presents itself," Panovich said. "Our brand is one we’re proud of, and we want to make sure it’s working in every market. We want to make sure that we’re giving the utmost service."

4. Madison Marquette

Fourth-place Madison Marquette, which signed 7.2 million sq. ft. of new contracts, is growing by defying conventional wisdom. While other firms are looking to expand their client bases, the Washington, D.C.-based company is choosing to specialize.

Of course it helps when you’re asked to manage and perform all services for a portfolio owned by Centro and Westfield.

"We are a full-service company, and that is a trend in our industry," said Tom Gilmore, executive VP of Madison Marquette Retail Services. "Most clients like all of the services in one shop. And for us, there are much greater efficiencies."

To optimize that service and efficiency, the firm is narrowing the types of assets and clients they work with. "The industry is tough, very competitive," Gilmore said. "The larger players who work on tight margins need a lot of product. We made a strategic decision two years ago to focus on the assets in our wheelhouse."

The company also prefers to do more work with a select group of clients, and has "gotten more disciplined in the types of projects," lest the company lose what makes them special, he added.

5. CBL & Associates Properties

Relationships are the key to third-party management for CBL & Associates Properties, which placed fifth with 6.3 million sq. ft. of new contracts by taking on the management services for six Starwood Retail Partners malls last year.

Because the company is still extremely active in development and acquisition (it placed fifth on the Fastest-Growing Acquirers list for 2012 and is also listed among Chain Store Age’s Top Developers this year), third-party management is a logical extension to utilize all of its skills and resources, said Alan Lebovitz, senior VP asset management for Chattanooga, Tenn.-based CBL.

"We’ve always had third-party commitments and relationships," Lebovitz said. Rather than form a separate division for such deals, the company has a decentralized approach that does not distinguish between CBL’s centers and those owned by others.

"One of our selling points is that we treat your mall like we treat ours," Lebovitz said, adding that the properties CBL takes on to manage and lease are similar to those it acquires and builds.

And the company plans to continue to take on compatible properties as the situations arise, he added. "We definitely feel there will be opportunity."

6. Fameco Real Estate

Local knowledge and skills have helped sixth-ranked Fameco Real Estate remain strong, say its leaders. The Conshohocken, Pa.-based firm added 6.1 million sq. ft. in new contracts last year.

"Knowledge is power," said Lawrence R. Zipf, president of Fameco Management Services Associates.

Now that knowledge even is helping other major management companies.

"Years ago, you had landlords that would not consider outsourcing leasing," said Adam Kohler, principal of Conshohocken, Pa.-based Fameco Real Estate. "Now, leasing departments have been downsized." The result is that some of the largest owner/managers in the industry are opting to have their in-house staff focus on national tenants, and retaining Fameco for more localized efforts.

"As there are less and less national deals, there have to be more and more local deals. Anything to do with food does well," Kohler observed.

And it doesn’t hurt to be in the mid-Atlantic, particularly Fameco’s hometown of metro Philadelphia. "We are seeing concerns about the refis. There is some restructuring going on," but less so nearby, Zipf said. "Philadelphia didn’t experience the high peaks, so we’re not seeing distressed assets."

For a breakdown of new third-party contracts obtained during 2012 for each of the companies in this article, visit


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Doing Deals


Editor’s Note: Chain Store Age’s 24th annual survey of Fastest-Growing Acquirers measured retail square footage purchased during the 2012 calendar year.

This year’s Fastest-Growing Acquirers range from list regulars to newcomers, a clear sign that retail is returning as a favored sector for growth.

A recovering economy continues to make retail an appealing category for operators and investors alike and, as might be expected, this year’s fraternity contains some of the industry’s major consolidators. Yet it also holds investment funds branching into new sectors.

None of our top five claim the deal-making is easy. Even this year’s top achiever, Inland Real Estate, notes that some deals went down to the wire — and that it turned down a record number of possibilities.

But times clearly are improving, as financing loosens; all expect to continue buying.

1. Inland Real Estate Group of Cos.

Think topping the Acquirers list is easy? Talk to Inland Real Estate, which bought 9.1 million sq. ft., ranging from Walgreens and Dollar General locations to large shopping centers.

"It was a heck of a hard-working year," said G. Joseph Cosenza, vice chairman of The Inland Real Estate Group and president of Inland Real Estate Acquisitions. "It culminated in the last business days of December, closing 19 deals in the last seven days totaling $500 million. That’s tough to do, even though we’re a machine."

That machine produced a total of $1.995 billion in retail acquisitions last year. Even more important, Cosenza said, are several notable transactions in 2012: the largest power center sale ever in suburban New York, the $166.4 million acquisition of City Centre in White Plains; the largest deal in years in Las Vegas, the $127 million buy of Centennial Center; an astonishingly low interest rate of 3.81% on a 10-year loan on its Las Vegas properties; the first time the company acquired properties in 29 states; and one others might envy.

"We also had the largest amount of properties, 722, that we turned down," Cosenza noted.

Inland’s requirements and underwriting are tougher than in 2009, and its due diligence is incredibly tough.

"I won’t buy junk," he said. "You do your walkthrough, and talk to every single tenant."

2. Cole Real Estate Investments

Variety and the recovery were the keys to growth for Phoenix-based Cole Real Estate Investments, which acquired 5.5 million sq. ft. of retail space last year to place second.

Its properties range from a 49,000-sq.-ft. grocery-anchored project in North Carolina to an 805,000-sq.-ft. power center in California. Better known for acquiring single-tenant properties, Cole has purchased some 90 shopping centers in the last two years.

"We are able to acquire properties leased to the types of credit-worthy, necessity-based tenants that are at the core of our investment strategy, but that prefer to be located in a shopping center," said Scott M. Holmes, senior VP acquisitions for multi-tenant retail. "This includes tenants such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Ross Dress For Less, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Jo-Ann’s. We’ve also been able to acquire properties leased to highly sought-after tenants such as Target, Walmart and Costco."

Last year was fruitful as the economy improved and financing loosened, he added. A non-traded REIT, Cole also considers secondary and tertiary markets. "We believe we can achieve higher risk-adjusted returns … while still getting strong-performing credit-worthy tenants, but with less competition," Holmes said.

Cole is targeting $1 billion in shopping center acquisitions in 2013.

3. Simon Property Group (tie)

It’s no surprise that Simon Property Group, one of the major consolidators in industry history, is once again a top acquirer, tying for third this year with 3.6 million sq. ft. of purchases.

What is interesting is that three of the four were outlets, and one a major regional mall, Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Ill.

"What we’re looking for across all our platforms are properties that fit our profile and enhance our franchise," said Richard S. Sokolov, Indianapolis-based Simon’s president and COO.

At a time when regional mall ownership is consolidated among just a few companies, Simon is chief among them with 325 properties across all categories, including 160 regional malls. (That total does not include the Mills projects.) "We are certainly in the position to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself," Sokolov said.

At this point, however, there aren’t that many quality malls available. In fact, he said, Simon passed on a number of opportunities last year. On the outlet side, the focus primarily remains new development, including expansions and redevelopment.

"You have to be very opportunistic," Sokolov observed. "These trade very rarely, and you have to be in the position to act where it’s appropriate."

3. Garrison Investment Group (tie)

One strategy for business success, touted by Sam Walton and others, is to "go where they ain’t." Following that axiom certainly aided Garrison Investment Group, which tied for third place with 3.5 million sq. ft. acquired last year.

At a time when many institutions and funds were competing over assets in major cities, Garrison focused on properties in smaller markets, said Lawrence Bizjak, a managing director and co-head of real estate of New York-based Garrison.

"We were fortunate that there was not a lot of institutional interest in secondary and tertiary markets last year," Bizjak said. "We were able to acquire assets from institutional investors who were exiting secondary markets to redeploy capital in core markets."

Another Garrison advantage was its ability to purchase with cash, providing a certainty of closing whether the deal was for a single property or a portfolio. The continuing rollover of maturing CMBS tranches, and ongoing foreclosure situations in parts of the United States should continue to provide more possibilities, he added.

"We’re still seeing good opportunities in this asset class and have closed on a couple more centers already this year," he said. "Things are off to a good start."

4. Phillips Edison & Co.

Distress is creating success for Phillips Edison, which ranked a close fourth with 3.3 million sq. ft. Through a fund launched for that purpose, the company is expanding beyond its usual neighborhood center focus to acquire properties that need a bit of help.

The centers were acquired through Phillips Edison’s Strategic Investment Fund II, a follow-up fund to its 2007 Strategic Investment Fund I, to focus on distressed assets.

"Traditionally, we’ve been focused on grocery-anchored shopping centers," said David T. Birdsall, senior VP and manager of the Strategic Investment Funds for Cincinnati-based Phillips Edison. "This strategic investment fund allows us to use our operational expertise to revitalize more operationally complex assets that are not grocery-anchored."

From 1997 to 2007, he explained, the market rewarded developers and risk takers who focused more on finances than running the projects. "The market will into the next decade continue to reward good operators," Birdsall continued. "That’s where I think we make the difference."

Plans call for a Strategic Investment Fund III, a net lease fund where Phillips Edison can bring a value-add component. The company’s primary focus, however, remains traditional neighborhood centers, Birdsall said, "and we expect massive growth."

5. CBL & Associates Properties

Acquisition news can be deceiving for CBL & Associates Properties, which ranked fifth this year with 3.1 million sq. ft. of newly acquired space.

Given that the company is better known for regional malls than outlet centers, some might find last year’s purchases of The Outlet Shoppes at Gettysburg (Pa.) and The Outlet Shoppes at El Paso (Texas) to be most newsworthy. Think again.

"What really is interesting are the mall acquisitions," said Katie Reinsmidt, senior VP investor relations and corporate investments at Chattanooga, Tenn.-based CBL.

The purchases of Dakota Square Mall in Minot, N.D., and Kirkwood Mall in Bismarck, N.D., are CBL’s first properties in the state, and a major investment. "There are four malls in North Dakota, and we own 50% of them," Reinsmidt said. Both centers have major growth potential. North Dakota’s economy is counter-cyclical to the rest of the country, benefiting from the boom in the natural gas industry.

Additional acquisition is possible, but not guaranteed, for 2013.

"We’re keeping our eyes open, and looking to find that mix of price, long-term growth and short-term growth," Reinsmidt said. "Some years we’ve been very successful, some we’re not as fortunate. We’re very opportunistic."

For a breakdown of properties and portfolios acquired during 2012 for each of the ranking companies, visit


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What will your company do with the tax-reform windfall?