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AMSTERDAM-Even as it deals with a possible economic slowdown and conflicting societal values, European shopping-center development is moving outward from major cities to smaller urban areas, said speakers at International Council of Shopping Center’s European Conference, which opened here Wednesday.

According to the ICSC, over 500 new centers totaling 17.9 million sf were planned between 2006 and 2009, the majority in mature retail markets in Western Europe. Still, about 130 projects are planned for EU-accession countries, nearly doubling the existing stock. And in Eastern Europe, a number of projects are being built in second-tier cities, a new trend, said Christoph Achammer, a board member of architecture and engineering firm ATP Group, in Vienna.

“Big centers are not just in big cities, but have spread to cities of 50,000 to 70,000 inhabitants,” such as the 60,000-sm (646,000-sf) Polus Centre in Ciuj, Romania, Achammer said.

In more developed Western Europe, projects are focused on the inner city, with renovations particularly important. But creating projects that will last remains a challenge as developers face contradictory trends, such as luxury shoppers also frequenting discounters, and globalization co-existing with cocooning. All of this must be incorporated into both new and existing centers, which increasingly are being refurbished and must take rising fuel prices into account. Only the strong Euro has prevented fuel costs from rising 40%, noted Stina Soewarta, a member of the Cabinet of Commissioner Andris Pielbags, the EU Commissioner for Energy.

And despite the economic slowdown in North America, developers remain upbeat. At an informal survey taken during the initial sessions, about 50 % of the respondents said they remained optimistic about short-term investment in new and existing shopping centers in Europe. Over the long term, defined as 10 years in the survey, 74% said they were optimistic.

“If a recession does happen in the United States, it will certainly have an impact in Europe,” said Jaap Gillis, COO of Redevco Europe, Amsterdam. “We may see a slowdown in some markets, but I don’t see a collapse in this environment.”

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