For neighborhood and community shopping center owners,

 it’s a time for reflection. Though they haven’t experienced the numerous headline-grabbing store closures plaguing big-box and mall owners, they are facing many changes in consumer behavior — and too few changes in fundamentals
The vacancy rate for neighborhood and community shopping centers fell by a mere 30 basis points year over year to 10.7 percent at the end of 2012, according to Reis. Asking rents increased only 0.5 percent during the same period, from $18.98 per square foot to $19.08 psf.
“Vacancy will need to compress in a much more significant fashion before rent growth breaks out of its rut,” says Ryan Severino, a senior economist at Reis.
However, retail development is at historic lows. Construction starts fell to 5 million square feet in 4Q12, according to CoStar. And Severino expects that, without much construction activity, even weak demand will push down vacancy rates and push up rents this year.
“We are experiencing the new normal,” says Shawn Massey, CCIM, partner with The Shopping Center Group in Memphis, Tenn. “With the lack of supply and good space, negotiations favor landlords these days. They’re able to pick and choose tenants based on credit, experience, and other factors.”
One of those factors is the brick-and-mortar tenant’s ability to thrive even as consumers increasingly shop online. Shopping center owners are now considering once unacceptable service tenants and traditional triple-net retailers, among others. 
But because the potential impact of Internet sales is still unclear — and a full economic recovery still only a dream — retail owners and investors are hedging their bets. They’re taking a close look at their tenant mix and how their space is being utilized. And, in the process, they’re changing the face of today’s neighborhood and community shopping centers.


Credit Counts

The basic formula for a successful shopping center tenant mix hasn’t changed much since the market downturn. “Ideally, you would want some type of grocery tenant to bring in the everyday shopper, along with one or two fast-casual restaurants on end caps to bring in the frequency-of-visit customer,” Massey says. Depending on the center’s size, junior anchors such as fitness centers or pet supply stores may be appropriate, he adds. The balance might consist of general retail and service tenants.
But these days, owners and investors are less apt to take a risk on retail tenants. “Compositionally, anchor tenants tend to be better quality retailers, in terms of company strength,” says Michael V. Pappagallo, chief operating officer of Kimco Realty, a real estate investment trust that owns and operates a portfolio of approximately 900 neighborhood and community shopping centers. Specialty retailers like Whole Foods and Fresh Market are also emerging as strong anchors, he says, particularly in neighborhood centers, while national apparel and pet supply companies are becoming more prevalent in community centers. For smaller spaces in these centers, owners prefer franchises vs. mom and pop stores, Pappagallo adds.
“Owners and investors want national names in their center as perceived better credit to balance out their tenant mix,” Massey explains. “A lower rent with national credit may actually have a greater value upon a sale.”
The retail sector has improved enough that shopping center owners can put capital for retrofits and tenant improvements into these deals again. “That’s critical in getting credit retail leases completed,” says Jonathan E. Lindsey, CCIM, broker with The Shopping Center Group in Birmingham, Ala. “When the world turned upside down, landlords weren’t funding deals, and tenants were shy about expanding. But in the past two years we’ve seen great activity.” 
Restaurants will account for 42 percent of new retail units in 2013, according to Chainlinks, with strong fast-casual tenants such as Five Guys and Chipotle leading the way.
Quick-service restaurant franchises are also expanding. Those specializing in breakfast — Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Huddle House, and others — are looking for space on drive-in end caps in smaller centers on the “going-to-work side of the road,” says Tom Rohde III, CCIM, vice president of Rohde Ottmers Siegel Realty in San Antonio. Well-established QSRs such as McDonald’s and Taco Bell are now working the San Antonio breakfast market as well.
Rohde is preparing for what could be the biggest retail expansion in his market in decades, thanks largely to credit tenants. In addition to the influx of restaurants, Walmart has plans for 12 new supercenters and several compact Neighborhood Market stores, which could result in as many as two dozen new shopping centers, Rohde says. He adds that San Antonio-based grocer H-E-B, which operates more than 300 stores in Texas, is expected to compete with new openings as well.


Tenant Changes

It’s no wonder brick-and-mortar shopping center owners are looking for stability. Online and nonstore retail sales jumped 11.6 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to the Commerce Department, more than double the average for all retail. Many of the tenants that are staples in community and neighborhood centers are now competing with the Internet, and some are losing that battle. “Owners are concerned about tenants selling widgets — whatever they might be,” says Larry Hausman, CCIM, senior associate with Marcus & Millichap in Louisville, Ky. For example, RadioShack, one-product retailers such as GameStop, and Barnes & Noble have seen declining same-store sales and are expected to close hundreds of stores this year, according to USA Today.
Hausman attributes this problem, in part, to a lack of a national Internet sales tax, which leaves brick-and-mortar retailers at a disadvantage. In March, members of the Senate voiced support for broader sales-tax collections on online purchases, but it’s unclear whether such a law will be passed.
Internet shopping competition has caused shopping center owners to rethink the formula for stability in recent years. “Our definition of a retail tenant has changed,” Massey explains. “We are seeing more nontraditional users go into shopping centers, including medical, educational, and fitness centers.” Most of these companies offer services and/or experiences that can’t be purchased online — at least not yet.
In addition, “Formerly prohibited uses, such as massage spas and motor scooter shops, are now viable additions to shopping centers, so landlords are compelled to approach anchor tenants for permission to pursue these leases,” says George C. Larsen, CCIM, of Larsen/Baker in Tucson, Ariz.
The medical tenants are perhaps the most notable. Healthcare users such as radiology centers, dialysis centers, or physical rehabilitation spaces were once only seen in multistory office buildings, says David J. Ahn, CCIM, CPM, vice president of asset services with MEI Real Estate Services in Los Angeles. Now those users are moving into community and neighborhood shopping centers, which offer advantages such as adequate parking, easier access, and better exposure.
This migration is a boon for shopping center owners, according to Bob Matias, senior vice president of retail at Equity in Columbus, Ohio. “Healthcare tenants tend to be strong credit, sign long-term leases, have a very low default rate, and drive daytime traffic to the center,” he explains.
Hausman cites a recent lease of 5,000 sf in a Louisville community center to a hospital-owned physician group. “Other tenants are thrilled with the increase in traffic,” he adds.
Ahn expects this trend to continue for many years, driven by the baby boom generation’s increasing need for convenient medical services.
Triple-net retail tenants that traditionally favor free-standing properties — T-Mobile and Dunkin’ Donuts, for example — have also begun to backfill space created by the increase in shopping center vacancy. “It makes more sense economically,” says Randy Blankstein, president of The Boulder Group in Northbrook, Ill., which specializes in single-tenant net lease properties. “Shopping center owners with above-average vacancy are enticing retailers by offering lower rents than a single-tenant property.” Free-standing properties generally command higher rents due to their relative visibility and ease of access, he adds.
But these aren’t triple-net leases in the strictest sense. In a shopping center, the landlord is responsible for the property’s roof and structure as well as billing for common area maintenance, taxes, and insurance, Blankstein explains. The property owner can also collect management and/or administration fees.
“This trend, coupled with already reduced expansion plans, has created a limited [triple-net] development pipeline,” Blankstein says.    


Space Jam?

Even brick-and-mortar retailers that thrive despite the Internet’s growing prominence will need less space in the coming years. As younger generations’ buying power increases, Ahn expects to see more interactive showrooms for products that can be stored elsewhere and delivered the next day. “The Apple Store model works with clothing, electronics, office supplies, furniture, and most nonperishable goods,” he says. “It also allows for a higher number of stores in a small area. [Shopping center owners] can now provide double the amount of retailers in the same space.”
Will there be enough viable tenants to fill this excess space? Pappagallo points out that developers had to add more small-shop space to neighborhood and community centers before and during the recession to make projects pencil out. But during the last few years, there weren’t enough sustainable businesses to prevent vacancies.
Thus, an ideal tenant mix alone might not protect a shopping center from falling victim to the market cycle. “If a small center is anchored by a supermarket, for example, it’s not who else is in there, but how much space,” Pappagallo explains. “In that case, 20,000 to 30,000 sf of small-shop space allows for healthy business among the tenants.” More space can lead to more vacancy.
In some markets, to get deals done, “Landlords are now more willing to de-commission space,” Lindsey says. For example, before 102,000 sf of shopping center space was delivered in Lindsey’s market last year, a tenant that had signed on for 4,000 sf pulled out. Rather than holding out for a tenant who could fill that entire space, the landlord backfilled 3,400 sf with Lindsey’s client and de-commissioned the rest. “The psf rent rate came down, allowing the tenant [which originally only wanted 2,400 sf] to take on the additional 1,000 sf,” Lindsey says.
Until the economy fully recovers, such measures may be necessary to make shopping centers viable. But it remains to be seen whether retail owners, investors, and developers have recalibrated enough to create centers that can withstand the market cycle’s next fluctuation. In the meantime, we’ll give them plenty of space to reflect.  
 Rich Rosfelder is associate editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate. Mike Pappagallo shares more of his thoughts on today's retail trends in the latest CIRE podcast.


Attracting Medical Tenants

Healthcare service providers are quickly becoming fixtures in community and neighborhood shopping centers throughout the country. This makes sense for landlords, who like these tenants’ creditworthiness and ability to generate traffic. But why are medical tenants drawn to these spaces? And how can shopping center owners entice them?
Chad Pinnell, senior vice president of healthcare at Equity in Columbus, and his colleague Bob Matias, senior vice president of retail at Equity, addressed these questions at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ University of Shopping Centers in March in the course “How to Attract Medical Facilities to Your Shopping Center.”
“Healthcare providers are increasingly interested in patient experience,” Pinnell explains. “Retail centers are easily accessible, easy to navigate, and conveniently located where people live –- all of which add to a good experience.” Plus, he adds, the traffic generated by shopping center anchors gives these medical tenants an advantage over the competition.
Which centers these tenants choose largely depends on the type of services they provide. “For instance, a pediatric group might find it advantageous to locate at a grocery-anchored shopping center because that’s where all the moms in town are showing up two times a week,” Pinnell says. “Or a sports medicine practice may find a location near a large fitness center or sporting goods store to fit their market profile better.”
But challenges can arise during lease negotiations. “This is not because either party is unreasonable, but rather because they are speaking two different economic languages,” Pinnell says. He recommends translating the retail lease terms in a healthcare lease to make them clearer to prospective tenants.
And often, medical tenants seek lower rents and more-costly tenant improvements than traditional retail tenants. “Remember to weigh this against the benefit of having a long-term, stable tenant that is a good traffic generator,” Pinnell adds.
Pinnell likes to cite the example of Ohio State University’s 30,000-sf CarePoint medical center, which is located in a Kroger grocery-anchored shopping center in Orange Township, Ohio. When CarePoint opened in November 2010, new families were rapidly moving into the surrounding area. And those families were shopping at Kroger. Within nine months the facility began to reach patient volume capacity, and expansion plans were made.
“Two years prior, Ohio State’s competitor had built a much larger facility about three miles away in a traditional medical office setting –- a quarter-mile off the road in a quite serene setting with no traffic -- and no retail,” Pinnell says. “That facility continues to struggle.


by Rich Rosfelder