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BOSTON-It may be as long as three years before retail real estate recovers from the Great Recession, but expect a much different ownership of shopping centers when it does, said speakers at ICSC’s New England Idea Exchange, which concludes here today.

With the United States over-stored, financing still tight, and transactions at a standstill, the short term remains challenging. But larger firms will benefit as they attract the bulk of financing.

“This is an equal opportunity recession, not just in the United States, but global,” said Donald Wood, president and CEO of Federal Realty Investment Trust, Rockville, MD.

The country simply has too much retail space, particularly in big-box category killers, Wood added. “I laugh when people say ‘Are we over-retailed?’” Wood said. “Of course we’re over-retailed.”

Financing new projects and refinancing loans remains challenging. Two years ago, New York City-based real estate capital advisory firm Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group’s average loan was $75 million. Today it is $15 million, said Simon Ziff, president. “You have to go to 100 lenders to get a deal done,” he said.

Landlords and vendors are choosier than ever, favoring large, well-established companies, which will attract financing over start-ups or more troubled projects. “The question isn’t ‘when’, it’s ‘what’, what will your angle be in the new world,” Ziff said. “How do you fix broken malls that don’t belong as malls any more? We’re not going to do what we were doing.”

As a result, owners are focusing on improving existing properties, while holding on until times improve. “The clear objective these days is to take what you have and make it better,” Wood said.

Hotels will likely recover first, with office space following. Retail will then recover, likely with major transactions.

“It’s the big guys who will move in, and they don’t buy individual assets,” Ziff said.

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