The venerable shopping mall may not loom large on developers' horizons at the moment, but it certainly stands out on investors' radar screens. Sales volume on significant retail properties nationwide was up 87% year-over-year to $12.5 billion during the first quarter of 2012, according to Real Capital Analytics, with malls accounting for nearly three-quarters of that total.

A pair of large mall-portfolio deals accounted for about half the $6.6 billion in sales during Q1, according to RCA. In March, Simon Property Group, headquartered in Indianapolis, bought out joint venture partner Farallon Capital Management's stake in 26 assets of the Mills LP in a $1.5-billion transaction. Simon will continue managing the malls, which total more than 20 million square feet.

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