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CHICAGO-The retail market appears as changing as a 24-hour sale, according to a panel of experts tells the Chicago Real Estate Council. Not only are the players changing on a national scale, the city is aggressively wooing retailers away from the suburbs, while space is being created to chase a limited number of potential tenants.

“Retailing is growing so fast,” says Michael Mallon, vice president of real estate for Dominick’s Finer Foods. “If you look at where retailing has been lately, retailing in the next three or four years from now will be mind-boggling.”

About 7 million sf of new retail space is being built in the market, Mallon says. In addition, about 5 million sf will become available as a result of retailer failures. “How can that much square footage be absorbed? Guess what? It’s going to,” he predicts.

Office building developer Steven D. Fifield notes during a retail breakfast hosted Tuesday by Baum Realty Group, Inc. that economists predict a flat market in his sector into the middle of 2003. However, retail appears to be ahead of the curve. While Fifield’s $400 million in bets in the West Loop area between the Chicago River and Kennedy Expressway are doing better than the overall market, retailers also are pursuing the area. Fifield notes he is chasing two potential anchor tenants—he only needs one—for the first-floor retail portion of his 600,00-sf 550 W. Adams St. development.

Mallon’s company is in the middle of a retailing fray that is seeing companies stretch into unfamiliar areas. For instance, Dominick’s is attempting to build gasoline stations next to its grocery stores, primarily in newer suburban locations. Meanwhile, department store chains such as monolithic Wal-Mart are eying grocery sections as their next profit centers.

All retailers might want to consider markets that have been traditionally underserved, if not ignored, says Frances Spencer, director of the city’s Retail Chicago problem.Spencer points to figures showing the average household net worth is $34,900 in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, $64,000 in West Englewood and $147,000 in Calumet Heights.

While the West Loop has seen a rapid increase in upscale lofts and condominiums, retail is following, Fifield notes. For instance, ubiquitous Walgreens is talking about a 12,000-sf lease in his multifamily rental project at Lake and Jefferson streets. And in his Park Alexandria condominium project further south, a top priority has been landing a dry cleaners on the first floor, Fifield says.

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