The availability of funding in the current credit crunch, retailer bankruptcy (including likely candidates and their effects on centers) and shaky consumer confidence all are likely topics of discussion at the upcoming session on “Open-Air Centers in a Challenging Environment” at ICSC’s RECon convention.

The panel, scheduled for Tuesday, May 20 from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., will discuss a variety of issues concerning the largest sector of the industry, said co-chairman Daniel B. Hurwitz, president and COO of Developers Diversified Realty, Cleveland.

“The majority of the conference is engaged in the management and leasing of open-air centers,” Hurwitz said. “This has the potential to be the most pertinent to the vast majority of participants.”

The panel was carefully selected to offer a variety of viewpoints, balancing between large REITs, privately held developers and a retailer (Shelly Sponholz, a senior vice president of Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh), said co-chairman Martin Mayer, president and CEO of Stirling Properties, Covington, La. The topics to be discussed continue to evolve, he notes. But audience participation and questions will be a must.

“We do not want to be a bunch of talking heads with lengthen PowerPoint presentations,” Mayer said. “Everybody, including ourselves, has questions. Some of the new people haven’t seen a downturn. This is therapy.”

Many questions, the speakers say, likely will be related to the availability and cost of financing, and increased pre-leasing requirements. Another topic could be a combination of rising construction costs, combined with little growth, said panelist Kenneth Bernstein, president of Acadia Realty Trust, White Plains, NY. Stagflation isn’t likely, but should be a concern for builders, he said. Another aspect that Bernstein said he hopes to discuss is human capital.

“Where should talent be going?” Bernstein said. “During the last major downturn, we lost a lot of talent, it took a long time to make that back.”

The speed of the change has been particularly striking. Deals have changed dramatically from last fall to today.

“We’ve seen situations where people were get 95% financing, and now are getting 70%,” said panelist Richard Tucker, president and CEO of Tucker Development Corp., Highland Park, IL. “But if you can withstand the next 12 to 18 months, there are tremendous opportunities. These are cycles, and we’ve seen this before.”