Hartman Simons partner Benno Rothschild (on the right in the above picture) yesterday moderated one of the two panels at Bisnow’s 4th Annual Atlanta Retail Real Estate Summit. Populated by some of the most prominent local retail figures, the panels provided detailed insight and analysis into the city’s improving retail real estate sector.

Rothschild’s panelists included Bill Brown, president of Halpern Enterprises Inc.; Andre Koleszar, regional officer for Regency Centers; Michael Puline, senior vice president with DLC Management Corp.; and Teri Young, senior vice president of Inland American Retail Management.

For today’s Four on Friday, we highlight four observations made during yesterday’s event:

Grocers and fitness centers are some of the fastest-growing tenants. Specialty grocers such as Sprouts, ALDI and Fresh Market are among the most aggressively expanding retailers in Atlanta, while traditional grocery stores continue to add sites throughout the Southeast as well, especially Publix in North Carolina, Brown said.

Fitness centers, urgent-care facilities and other types of medical tenants also are experiencing strong growth as well, Brown added. On the flip side, office supply stores and Radio Shacks are contracting their number of stores.

Rents are slowly growing. While rental rates are generally trending upward, the pace of that increase has been somewhat slow, the panelists said.

“We’ve seen more positive rent growth in other markets in the Southeast,” Puline said. However, “we are seeing some in Atlanta.”

The closer intown a retail center is, the stronger the rent growth, Puline added. “The farther you are outside the Perimeter, the tougher it gets,” he said.

Brown echoed Puline’s observations. “Atlanta has been slower to come back than other markets,” Brown said.

Investment sales are brisk. Despite the city’s still-somewhat sluggish retail fundamentals, buyers are anxious to purchase retail assets in the city, according to Thursday’s panelists.

“A lot of people are bullish on Atlanta” over the long-term, Koleszar said.

“It’s a seller’s market,” added Don McMinn, director of Marcus & Millichap’s Net Leased Properties Group, in the day’s other panel. “There’s a tremendous amount of demand from buyers, particularly for net-leased properties.”

For example, a Chick-fil-A in Cordele, Ga., recently sold for a 4.5 percent cap rate, McMinn noted.

With more inventory on the horizon, many owners are anxious to get their properties on the market to take advantage of today’s pricing, McMinn added.

More sustainable operations. While they typically don’t pursue LEED certification because of the paperwork and expense, retail property owners are incorporating a range of environmentally friendly practices — such as white reflective roofs, and high-efficiency lighting and HVAC systems — into their buildings, noted Allen Dedels, associate director of Cooper Carry's Retail Specialty Practice Group.

“Sustainability is here to stay,” said Keith Daigle, regional director of construction for Weingarten Realty, during the other panel. “Get onboard, guys.”