It’s no secret that apparel chains are struggling, and as a result, are cutting their expansion: Chico’s is reducing its growth plans to 10% in 2008, down from the 12% to 15% expansion in past years. PacSun is closing 74 demo units, Talbots is eliminating its mens and kids chains, Ann Taylor is shutting 117 units and Liz Claiborne discontinued its Sigrid Olsen chain.

This could leave developers of lifestyle centers, so dependent on clothing shops, in a quandary. Could the struggles in the apparel business affect lifestyle center leasing and development? Developers disagree.

“The business is bifurcated,” said Daniel Hurwitz, president and COO of Cleveland-based Developers Diversified Realty, at Deutsche Bank’s 2008 Real Estate Conference, held in New York City in January. “We are seeing some resistance to the lifestyle arena from certain tenants.”

No more so than other formats, others say.

“There is a slowdown in general because of the economy, but there isn’t a disproportionate slowdown in lifestyle centers,” said Terry McEwen, president of Poag & McEwen Lifestyle Centers, Memphis. Retail sales are up about 3%, McEwen noted, so the results are “not disastrous. The companies that know how to open stores will prevail and actually position themselves to do well in the future.”

Mall construction, in fact, faces a greater slowdown, giving lifestyle centers an opportunity to pick up the stores that are expanding, albeit more slowly. And some chains continue to grow and even launch new formats:

Even so, retailers are carefully scrutinizing their landlords, and doing deals with those they trust, said Craig Wesemeyer, vp and director of leasing for Atlanta-based Cousins Properties. This situation would favor the larger, better-established lifestyle-center developers. Expansion is not completely dead, he notes, as retailers still have growth commitments. American Eagle and Coach, among others, continue to expand. Still, caution is the watchword.

“Everyone is asking if they need to do a store in this environment,” Wesemeyer said. “People are gravitating to what they know. The new development will take a little longer.”

Those who are not expanding are either foolish or have other reasons, McEwen said.

“When a retailer has a bad quarter, a lot will stop expansion. That’s silly,” McEwen said. “When you do a deal, the store won’t open for a year or two. Leases run for 10 years [or longer]. You know the economy is not going to be bad for the next 12 to 32 years. It’s silly to cut back your expansion for a bad quarter.”

Instead, he said, stores cut back because of more fundamental problems – a problematic brand, or problems with Wall Street. Smart retailers, he said, “will outposition the competition.”

In addition, developers can look to local tenants to fill in some of the gap, and take advantage of lower land costs to find opportunities for future building – as long as they have cash.

“This is a great market for people like Cousins and those with the wherewithal,” to continue to grow, Wesemeyer said. “We can close on land, and the terms by which we can do these deals continue to get better.”

“This correction we’re going into is probably a good thing,” McEwen said. “It’s been 17 years of good times, and in the last few years so much capital has been chasing projects.”The result, he said, is that some marginal projects have been built. Slightly declining demand will result in more realism, and a stronger industry.

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