CHICAGO — The top guns of retail investing have a need for needs-based assets, especially grocery-anchored shopping centers. InvenTrust Properties is riding that unwavering demand, which is further fueled by increased Sun Belt job and population growth, to more than $300 million in retail asset additions in the next two years. According to Christy David, InvenTrust Properties’ EVP, COO and general counsel, the region has fundamentals for sustained retail growth.

“Why are we so hot on the Sun Belt? It’s because of the migration that’s occurring and we expect that trend to continue.  It’s not only the overall population, but also from new businesses that are opening up new corporate campuses in our markets,” said David. “We’ve actually been very pleased with the leasing activity at our properties, especially coming out of the pandemic. InvenTrust has a great pipeline of leasing deals and has seen an uptick in overall activity thanks to demand coming from local, regional and national tenants.”

That Sun Belt consumer migration is being driven by lower cost of living and job growth that attracts a highly educated workforce ready to spend. And pandemic or not, everyone needs food and other essential services. David reports that foot traffic at InvenTrust’s centers are above pre-pandemic volumes.

“Primarily, grocery-anchored assets and necessity-based tenants help drive traffic to our centers,” David added. “These are uses that generally require people to visit the centers multiple times a week and in return attract leasing demand from businesses.”

Regarding small shop tenants, InvenTrust is seeing a lot of demand coming from quick-service restaurants and also health & wellness businesses. Shopping center tenants range from household names to new concepts. David mentioned recent deals with the likes of Crumbl Cookies, Market by Macy’s, Five Below and Going Going Gone.

InvenTrust’s local operator model — it has seven field offices — not only paid off during the pandemic, it also serves as a high-touch, multifaceted and effective toolkit to keep the portfolio running at maximum efficiency. The REIT leverages the model for enhanced client relations, market research and more.

“During the pandemic we were able to visit 62 of our 65 assets without having to get on a plane, which proved very beneficial,” David said. “We were able to speak with our tenants and understand their demands as they were facing those COVID-19 challenges in front of them. It has given us great insights into not only how we retain current tenants, but also what the market demand is, the traffic generators and also additional opportunities to buy in those markets because our people are experts in those particular areas.”