Bob Simons Hartman Simons 2nd Annual Retail Summit Andre Koleszar Regency CentersSeveral of Atlanta’s leading retail lights gathered in Buckhead Thursday for a wide-ranging panel discussion on how the commercial real estate sector is performing. And Hartman Simons played a crucial role in bringing them together and guiding the ensuing talk.

The 2nd Annual Atlanta Retail Summit, which Hartman Simons co-sponsored with ASD, was held bright and early at The Ritz-Carlton. For the second year in a row, firm partner Bob Simons moderated the panel discussion.

The panelists included Mike Cohn, executive vice president of Cousins Properties; Andre Koleszar, regional officer of Regency Centers; Kate Peterson, senior real estate manager for Home Depot; Mike Puline, vice president and director of Southeast leasing for DLC Management; Pat Senn, the Georgia real estate manager for Family Dollar Stores; and Rebecca Water, vice president of leasing for EDENS.

Below are four summaries of the many interesting topics/points touched on in the 90-minute discussion.

Family Dollar Is Going Great Guns. Senn rattled off some figures buttressing the oft-heard observation that discount retail is thriving. Family Dollar will open 500 new stores during its current fiscal year and could open another 600 in its next one. The retailer also remodeled more than 950 stores last year and will complete another 1,000 remodels this year.

“Did you say there was a recession going on?” Senn joked at one point, adding later, “I apologize. My phone rang because we just had two more stores open up.”

This Isn’t Your Father’s Retail Sector. Several times, the discussion returned to the tremendous impact technology has had on the segment, as brick-and-mortar tenants cope with growing online sales and wade into the social media pool.

Home Depot is now seeking to court the online shopper by offering a service through which someone can purchase an item through the company’s website and pick it up in a store one hour later, Peterson said. DLC Management aids tenants’ social-media efforts by managing their Twitter and Facebook accounts and providing them with display stickers that ask shoppers to follow the tenants on those sites, Puline added.

Tenants shouldn’t look at online sales and social media as a threat, but should instead seek “a symbiotic relationship” with the online universe, Koleszar said. 

Making Concessions. Panelists said the extent to which landlords are making concessions in leases varies from market to market. In suburban areas, leverage tends to tilt toward tenants, Cohn said.

“We are seeing lots of competitors offering concessions that I’ve never seen: six months, a year’s worth of free rent,” Puline added.

Meanwhile, “we’ve experienced a considerable uptick in tenants exercising options instead of renegotiating,” Koleszar said. “That points to pricing power.”

Support for SPLOST. Cohn closed the session by urging attendees to vote this summer in support of the 1 percent transportation sales tax (known as TSPLOST). The tax would fund metro Atlanta transportation projects aimed at reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality.

The area is losing jobs to other cities because of its traffic woes, Cohn said. His urging seemed to go over well. The tax has broad support within the metro Atlanta business community.

(Above photo: Hartman Simons partner Bob Simons, right, and Regency Centers' Andre Koleszar just before Thursday's panel discussion got underway.)

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