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WASHINGTON, DC-The National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts has tapped Martin “Hap” Stein Jr. to be chairman this year of the organization. CEO and chairman of Regency Centers Corp., an owner, operator and developer of grocery-anchored and community shopper centers, Stein has a front-row view of what is happening in his industry – which he plans to leverage for NAREIT this year. GlobeSt.com caught up with Stein after the announcement of his appointment to talk about the association’s expectations for the year, as well as his own thoughts on how REITs will perform in 2008.

GlobeSt.com: What goals would you like to see NAREIT hit this year?

Stein: A number of things. We want, for instance, a REIT modernization act [the REIT Investment Diversification and Empowerment Act, or RIDEA] passed that would include a clause reducing the number of years a REIT would have to hold a property under Safe Harbor to two from four. We want to continue to tell the story why REITs are good investments – the transparency, the strong management, the balance sheets and impressive track record of performance, which compares favorably to the S&P. In other words REITs are a compelling investment proposition and we want to make sure everyone knows how and why.

GlobeSt.com: Do you think the political climate this year – meaning it’s an election year – would help or hinder you in getting REIT legislation passed?

Stein: I don’t know. The only benchmark I can point to is that we were successful in helping to get the extension to TRIA [the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act] passed last year.

GlobeSt.com: Anything else in terms of your goals for NAREIT?

Stein: We’d like to see federal employees be allowed to invest in REITs [in their government retirement plans], which would be a major accomplishment.

GlobeSt.com: In 2007, REITs didn’t beat the S&P. Do you see that as a short-term blip or the start of longer trend?

Stein: Yes, REITs underperformed last year. But they have a good long-term track record. I believe that will continue to be true.

GlobeSt.com: Did the credit crunch play a role in last year’s underperformance?

Stein: It depended on the REIT. If it was well-capitalized, it probably performed fine. REITs tend to have low levels of leverage, so many are positioned not only to weather the storm, but take advantage of the opportunities that may arise because of it.

GlobeSt.com: What are your plans for Regency Centers’ strategy for the year in this respect?

Stein: The retail fundamentals are good, but there will certainly be some impact as Wall Street’s problems start to move into Main Street. We will continue to produce reliable growth and operating income from our high-quality portfolio. Over 60% of our portfolio is anchored with top grocery store chains, for instance, and our net operating growth has been an average 3% over the last nine years.Also, we will continue to grow our non-speculative development program. Right now we have $1 billion worth of projects under development, 55% of which are funded and 75% of which are leased and committed.

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