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NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ-The economic news continues to be dominated by negative headlines, but Levin Management Corp. reports there are positive signs that the retail business is ready for a turnaround. Heightened leasing activity by the retail real estate services firm during the first half of 2009, coupled with new construction tied to shopping center repositionings provides the evidence.

“Better things are happening,” says Levin president and COO Matthew K. Harding. “All things considered, our properties have been doing pretty well through this cycle, and we are encouraged by what we’re seeing right now.”

The signs include a total of approximately 262,000 square feet of leasing activity at Levin properties during the first seven months of the year, involving 48 transactions and 24 shopping centers in four states. Much of that activity has occurred in New Jersey, with the balance in PA, NY and NC.

“Our portfolio totals more than 12.5 million square feet, which gives us a broad-based reading of conditions across a number of key markets,” Harding says. “The number of renewals and extensions suggest that tenants are taking advantage of the market to lock in at favorable rates, but it also speaks to their confidence.”

It’s not exactly a turnaround, but Macy’s is also seeing signs of a flattening, rather than a decline in the economy, the company said at its second-quarter conference call. Inventory control measures, comp increases in online sales and a better-than-expected earnings performance has lead to cautious optimism about a gradual improvement in overall sales, the company said. “It does feel more stable,” said Karen Hoguet, CFO.

On the construction side, work is currently underway as part of major repositionings at the 268,000-square-foot Post Road Plaza in Pelham Manor, NY and the 317,471-square-foot St. Georges Crossing in Woodbridge. According to Levin, new tenants coming into the two properties are expected to add upwards of 500 permanent jobs, and ongoing construction activity has totaled approximately 250 jobs.

“We’re seeing positive energy at both construction sites,” Harding says. “That is a very welcome change from the negative reports we continue to hear about the economy. In good economic times, a ribbon cutting is very often taken for granted. In this economy, it is a very real cause for celebration.”

Renovation and activity at the two-story Post Road Plaza has been especially significant. At the onset of the repositioning, Fairway Market signed a new 75,000-square-foot lease to anchor the property, joining existing tenants Modell’s, Dress Barn, AJ Wright, Mandee and GNC.

The renovation at St. Georges Crossing, meanwhile, is the culmination of a decade-long effort to reposition the property after Caldor vacated its two-floor operation. The Shannon Rose Irish Pub is the latest to open at the property, joining a 91,000-square-foot ShopRite supermarket, P.C. Richard & Son, PETsMART, Taco Bell, Bertucci’s, Pier 1 Imports and GameStop, among others.

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