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ORLANDO-Opportunities abound for specialty retailers over the next several years as consumers continue to search for convenience and quality service, 3,000 delegates attending the 2003 Florida Conference of the International Council of Shopping Centers were told. The three-day conference at the Gaylord Palms Convention Center ends Tuesday.

“Opportunities will come to retailers that stay ahead of the curve and aggressively respond to consumer needs,” said John M. Crossman, senior vice president of investment services in the local office of Dallas-based Trammell Crow Co. “As older retailers like Kmart leave submarkets, opportunities will open up for specialty retailers that offer services and experiences that Wal-Mart and the Internet cannot provide.” He urged retailers to “invest dollars in research so that they fully understand their customers’ needs, wants and desires.”

On the investment side, grocery-anchored shopping centers are at the top of every investor’s buy list, Crossman said. “Capital markets have been pushed by low interest rates and the lack of alternatives in other market sectors has pushed prices further due to tremendous competition,” the broker continued.

Crossman was one of five speakers making oral presentations at the ICSC event. The others were C. Whitney Knoll, senior vice president and director of investment services in the Atlanta office of Trammell Crow; Britt Beemer, president, America’s Research Group, Orlando; David W. Marks, president, Marketplace Advisors Inc., Maitland, FL; and T. Andrew Hawkins, senior vice president, Bank of America.

A relatively new trend in the retail investment industry is the surge of banks eager to expand in local markets, the ICSC delegates were told. “Bank of America is one of the leaders, as they are looking to open 200 banking centers in the Southeast US over the next two years alone,” Knoll said. “Banks are now competing with drugstores and convenience stores for the best corner locations.”

As for the May Department Stores Co.’s July 30 decision to close 32 Lord and Taylor stores, a specially prepared Trammell Crow Co. report distributed to ICSC delegates said Florida suffered the brunt of the closings with seven, compared to an average of three closings in other individual markets. “Florida retail experts believe that the failure of Lord and Taylor can be attributed to May Co. not understanding and adapting to the Florida market, as it has never learned to market and inventory their stores for warm weather locations,” the Crow report stated. “Most of these stores are located in malls, which will create positive opportunities for malls to attract new or established retailers to these boxes, or to redevelop the spaces for other exciting concepts.

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