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PALM SPRINGS, CA-Is Wal-Mart buying Ann Taylor or Tommy Hilfiger? How have other recent acquisitions, like the Federated-May department-store merger, impacted the industry? Those and other questions were on the mind of speakers here yesterday at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Western Division Conference.

The rumor that Wal-Mart is buying both specialty chains was used at an example during the sessions to demonstrate how a retailers’ ownership group is far from permanent. In the case of Federated Department Stores’ acquisition of May Department Stores, the deal will lead to the closures of 76 department stores.

“It is almost impossible to say who is ultimately going to be my anchor if I buy this mall,” said Howard Samuels, president of Beverley Hills, CA-based developer Samuels & Co. In the case of the mall units Federated is closing, speakers speculated that Nordstrom could be a potential buyer. Another pointed out that Wal-Mart, which is increasingly looking for mall space, might want to go into some of those locations.

In the case of Mervyn’s, which was acquired by Capital Partners Inc., Cerberus Capital Management, LP, and Lubert-Adler and Klaff Partners last year, a little bit of everything is going on. As previously announced the retailer is closing stores and exiting markets. But Joseph Fahey, vice president of acquisitions and asset management at Lubert Adler, said that his firm is also planning four new stores next year and is interested in buying and repositioning some centers in which Mervyn’s is a tenant.

Some panelists also discussed grocer Albertsons putting itself up for sale and possible closures. If a landlord owns real estate with an Albertsons, it could be a good opportunity to bring in another tenant that could pay higher rent, said Pat Donahue, president and COO of Costa Mesa, CA-based developer Donahue Schriber. “The first thing you have to do if you own a center with an Albertsons is see what your position is in the marketplace,” he said.

Sharon Polonia, senior vice president of asset management at Chicago-based General Growth Properties, said that a shopping center owner can’t expect to find the same solution for every center that has a vacancy. “There is no cookie-cutter recipe and each asset needs to be looked at on its own merits,” she said.

Polonia also pointed to uses other than retail, like residential and office, as alternative possibilities in centers. General Growth’s Natick (MA) Mall outside of Boston is one center at which the developer plans to add apartment buildings. “We’re going to be able to reposition our assets like we’ve never done before.”

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