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PALM SPRINGS, CA-Investec Real Estate of Santa Barbara has opened its $17.5 million, 60,000-square-foot Gene Autry Plaza and is in the market to acquire more necessity-based shopping centers. Located at the southeast corner of Ramon Road and Gene Autry Trail, the center is anchored by a newly constructed 30,000-square-foot Smart & Final Extra! store that joins a newly opened Staples and 11,500 square feet of shop space.

Investec’s general partner, Jim Slaught, says that discount grocer Smart & Final “should perform very well” throughout the recession, and he expects the same of Staples. Slaught, who is project manager and asset manager for the Gene Autry Plaza, notes that the Smart & Final Extra! store carries a greatly expanded selection of products in key categories like produce, fresh meat, frozen foods, dairy, deli and grocery basics like cereal, yogurt, bread and snacks.

The development of Gene Autry Plaza, which marks Investec’s first Smart & Final lease and its fifth with Staples, “further strengthens our portfolio and meets our criteria of owning and managing necessity-based, recession-resistant market/drug anchored neighborhood shopping centers” in California, Slaught says. The completion of Gene Autry Plaza expands Investec’s retail portfolio in California to nearly two million square feet valued at more than $600 million.

According to Kenneth Slaught, president of Investec, traffic and sales are increasing at the Santa Barbara-based company’s necessity-based shopping centers as consumers return to basics by eating at home more often and by searching our discount retailers for bargains. “Knowing this type of real estate in California, particularly Coastal California, is performing well during this severe downturn, has us excited about the future,” Slaught states. He says that Investec plans to continue buying the same type of properties in Coastal California and anticipates that, during the next few years, “We are going to have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to buy this exclusive asset class at below replacement cost.”

Slaught adds that, contrary to the general gloom about retail real estate and the press reports about the troubles plaguing discretionary retail and large niche chains, “All of our existing grocery anchor tenants have shown sales increases averaging 2.9% over the past 12 months.” He cites figures showing Wal-Mart up 7.2%, Albertsons’ parent company SuperValu up 0.1%, Raley’s at even, Vons’ parent company Safeway up 4.3% and drugstore sales up 1.5% (including a 14.6% spike at CVS). “With the grocery and drug stores typically accounting for approximately 60% of the leasable area of our centers, we are confident of gross sales increases at all our shopping centers,” the Investec president says.

Investec’s new Gene Autry Plaza is part of a 60-acre retail development that includes Wal-Mart Supercenter, Office Depot, PetSmart and Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse. Both Smart & Final Extra! Store and Staples are relocating from existing stores in Cathedral City. The new Investec center has 8,500 square feet of available shop space, which the company is marketing to financial institutions, cell phone stores, coffee stores and other food users. The new center is named for the late Gene Autry, the singing cowboy of movie fame who went on to own the California Angels baseball team (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) and―among other accomplishments, including the co-founding of a western history museum― bringing professional baseball in the spring to Palm Springs.

Local architect Jim Cioffi provided the concept design for Gene Autry Plaza. KKE Architects of Pasadena served as the project architect. The general contractor was GHA Cos. of Cathedral City.

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