CHICAGO-General Growth Properties is focusing on the development of new centers as opposed to acquisitions and will open three significant assets this year as well as one major redevelopment. “Coming off an era of growth by acquisition, we are now in a period of organic growth,” said John Bucksbaum, the REIT’s CEO, during its first-quarter conference call.

New centers opening this year, all in September, are Gateway Overlook, in Benson, MD; Park West, in Peoria, AZ; and the Shops at Fallen Timbers, in Maumee, OH. Executives expect to complete the redevelopment of Natick (MA) Mall as well.

Even with the new product coming on line, it is challenging for the firm to keep up with the constant expansion of retail chains, Bucksbaum says. During the quarter, which ended March 31, the company signed a record number of 367 new stores in its portfolio, totaling 1.9 million sf.

Many retailers are opening new concepts in General Growth centers, such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Cheesecake Factory, Chico’s FAS, and J. Crew, says Robert Michaels, the firm’s president and COO. The company is also looking to find space in existing centers to make room for these concepts, he says.

General Growth’s retail occupancy rose to 92.9% during the quarter up from 91.1% during the same year-ago period. Sales per sf in centers rose to $458 from $444, while total tenant sales rose 7%.

The company owns about 200 shopping centers, most of them malls, across the country. Many of those centers, Bucksbaum says, will get mixed-use components in years to come.

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