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LAS VEGAS-Sam Zell certainly knows how to work a crowd. He opened his speech here at the International Council of Shopping Centers RECon conference telling a joke that involved a monkey, booze, marijuana, sex and a school bus.

Somehow the presentation circled back to the retail real estate industry. His overall message? The industry is going to recover, but the playing field has changed.

“We believed everything grew to the sky,” he remarked. “Nobody stopped and said, ‘Can the business afford it?’”

The chairman of Equity Group Investments and the Tribune Company said that this is the most volatile commercial real estate market he has seen 40 years in the business.

Complex lending deals coupled with rent rates that didn’t seem to have a ceiling torched the industry. But a recovery is on the horizon, he stressed.

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