A myriad of project announcements, deals and product launches came during ICSC’s RECon show in Las Vegas. Here’s a rundown of some of the news.

Simon, Calloway and SmartCentres Announce Montreal Project

Simon Property Group Inc., Calloway REIT and SmartCentres announced plans to develop their second Premium Outlet Center in Canada. The center will be located in the Town of Mirabel, Quebec, approximately 20 miles north of Montreal. The project, called Montreal Premium Outlets, is a joint venture between Simon, Calloway and SmartCentres. Simon will own 50 percent of the project.

Phase 1 will be comprised of 350,000 sq. ft. of gross leasable area and 80 stores. Construction is expected to begin in 2013. The first Simon and Calloway project, Toronto Premium Outlets, located in the Town of Halton Hills, is currently under construction and on schedule for a summer 2013 opening.

"Due to the strong response to our first announced project in the Toronto area, we are excited to now bring the Premium Outlets branded concept of upscale outlet shopping to the Montreal area," Simon Premium Outlets President John R. Klein said in a statement. "We are pleased to quickly expand our presence in Canada and our partnership with Calloway and SmartCentres to develop another first-class project."

Champion, Wilson to Invest $200M on Retail Properties

Champion Real Estate Co. and Chris Wilson, founder of Wilson Commercial Real Estate formed a partnership called Champion-Wilson Retail to acquire, develop and renovate retail properties throughout California.

Champion has allocated $50 million of equity to the venture, which could be leveraged up to $200 million in properties over the next three years. Wilson, will spearhead the new venture’s efforts, while retaining his current role as Founder and Chairman of Wilson Commercial Real Estate.

Champion-Wilson Retail will focus on acquiring existing retail projects with value add opportunity; distressed retail assets and notes; and prime shopping center and urban retail land. The venture also expects to leverage Champion’s public-private expertise to resurrect retail projects abandoned as a result of the demise of Redevelopment Agencies in Southern California. The venture will consider opportunities in prime retail markets ranging in price from $10 million to $100 million.

Cole Acquires Eastland Center from Westfield

Cole Real Estate Investments acquired Eastland Center, a 805,000-sq.-ft. power center in West Covina, Calif., for $147.0 million from The Westfield Group. The announcement was made by Thomas W. Roberts, executive vice president and head of real estate investments.

The center is currently 100 percent leased and is anchored by several prominent anchor retailers including Target, Burlington Coat Factory, Albertson’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bed Bath & Beyond, Marshalls, Ross Dress for Less, Office Depot, DSW and PetSmart. In addition, the property includes several specialty retailers and restaurant tenants including Dollar Tree, Carter’s, Starbucks Coffee, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, and T.G.I. Friday’s. Another major anchor retailer is currently under construction and the tenant will be announced soon.

Eastland Center was originally built in 1957 and has been redeveloped twice, in both 1979 and 1997. It consists of a two-story main building accessible from two sides at grade level, which houses the majority of the anchor and junior anchor tenants, an in-line grocery-anchored community center and eight other buildings that include several junior anchors, shop tenants and outparcels.

JLL: Retail Real Estate Recovery Remains Modest

The U.S. retail real estate sector witnessed a moderate recovery in the first quarter of 2012 led by retail investment sales, as trades of significant retail properties increased nearly 90 percent over Q1 2011, according to Jones Lang LaSalle's Spring Retail Forecast.

"Improving economic fundamentals continue to drive a modest recovery. However, significant risks remain, with the most critical being the European crisis and uncertainty about fiscal policy," Greg Maloney, president and CEO of retail at Jones Lang LaSalle said in a statement. "While retailers are faring better than we've seen in the past two years, we witnessed a greater number of underperforming store closings this year. In addition, there continues to be a gradual absorption of available space, but rental rates have still not bottomed out nor are they expected to do so for several quarters."

"Retail real estate sales recorded a fantastic quarter with significant retail property sales totaling $12.5 billion, which represented an 87 percent increase over Q1 2011," Margaret Caldwell, managing director of capital markets at Jones Lang LaSalle, said in a statement.

Additional retail real estate investment highlights include:

Average cap rates fell to 7.3 percent, with regional malls experiencing the sharpest decline.

Cap rates fell significantly across most major metro areas, secondary and tertiary markets. Secondary markets in particular have seen a revival in transaction volume jumping 27 percent in the last six months. Major metros, on the other hand, only experienced a 16 percent jump in transaction volume while tertiary markets declined by 4 percent.

The West region led retail property sales for the first quarter with $4.14 billion in transactions, followed by the Southeast with $2.4 billion, the Midwest at $1.83 billion, the Southwest with $1.62 billion, the Mid-Atlantic at $1.26 billion, and the Northeast with $1.25 billion.

Meanwhile, vacancy fell 20 basis points year over year, closing the first quarter at 6.9 percent. Net absorption was moderate compared to the previous quarter, totaling just over 12.3 million square feet, but consistent with the trend over the past year. Deliveries were relatively lower as well, coming in at 7.2 million square feet. Vacancy rates are approximately 50 basis points below their peak but still 60 basis points higher than their 10-year average, so it is still a tenant's market and should continue to be through 2013.

Cassidy Turley Seems Momentum

Cassidy Turley reported the first vacancy declines for the U.S. retail sector in five years as the market’s recovery gains momentum.

Cassidy Turley's May 2012 U.S. Retail Report notes that in the first quarter of 2012, the retail sector absorbed 3.1 million sq. ft., following a pace of 3.4 million sq. ft. in the previous quarter.

The pace over the last six months is five times faster than any point in the recovery cycle. Further, vacancy fell 10 basis points to 10.9 percent, the first decline in five years. Average asking rents, which have fluctuated in the past year, increased slightly in the first quarter of 2012 to $19.00 per sq .ft. Markets with the highest percentage rental growth include Austin at 3.4 percent, Charlotte at 2.9 percent, Oakland-East Bay at 2.7 percent, and San Jose and Seattle at 2.6 percent. Manhattan claims the top per-sq.-ft. rate with an average asking rent of $56.96.

Among the top trends to watch in 2012, Cassidy Turley’s U.S. Retail Report predicts:

• Retailers chasing the sure thing – high-density, high-income, low-unemployment demographics. • With rare exception, there are no new rooftops to follow. New development in 2012 will largely be limited to urban redevelopment projects. Only a handful of metros will see new suburban projects go forward this year. • Retailers are downsizing. Big-box users are shrinking their footprint, but the same applies to a number of smaller-space users and restaurant chains as well. • Continued massive grocery expansion, but industry shakeout as well • Increased M&A activity. • The lion’s share of retail failures and bankruptcies in 2012 will be for mid-priced retailers, but the amount of space returned to the market will be considerably less than 2011. Closures will disproportionately impact Class B and C malls. • Market for shop space remains challenged by a lack of smaller-space users in expansion mode. • Top growth concepts for 2012 – automotive, discounters, dollar stores, off-price apparel, pet supplies, sporting goods, fitness/health/spa/massage concepts, drug stores and grocery stores.

Victory Park, Trademark Form Partnership

Victory Park UST Joint Venture I, L.P. is partnering with Fort Worth, Texas-based Trademark Property Co., a national leader in retail development, to plan and execute the repositioning and redevelopment of its retail holdings in the southern district of downtown Dallas’ Victory Park development.

As part of the repositioning plan, Trademark will develop and implement a merchandising and leasing strategy for the ground floor retail space and undeveloped land along Victory Park Lane, and the ground floor retail space in The Cirque and One Victory Park. Trademark will also identify and attract key destination retail, restaurant and entertainment tenants to Victory Park that fit the leasing strategy.

“Since becoming sole owner of VPUST and the Victory Park buildings in 2009, we have been working closely with key stakeholders including the City of Dallas, the local retail community, and our other tenants and operators in the district to plan the future of Victory Park and how best to move it forward,” Estein & Associates COO Lance Fair said in a statement. “Trademark is a great addition to our team. They have the vision, the passion, and the experience to take Victory Park retail to its fullest potential.”

Victory Park is a property of UST XVI Victory Park, a German real estate investment fund managed by affiliates of Estein & Associates USA, Ltd. based in Orlando, Fla.

Koss Launches CRE Lending Portal

KossREsource.com, a new website providing information on lending, is designed to be “the Travelocity of the commercial real estate industry,” says its founder, longtime Los Angeles commercial real estate broker, developer and lender Michael Koss. The online information portal, which was launched on May 18 and went live at ICSC’s ReCon show in Las Vegas, is a database of financing alternatives. The site also provides a library of free legal documents, lending and green building blogs, newsfeeds, links to trade associations and publications, profiles of professionals accessible through Facebook and LinkedIn.

The site took 20 months to develop.

For a fee, lenders can have their firms listed higher in a search, similar to Google.

RetailNext and University of Chicago Business School Partner to Examine Shopping Behavior

RetailNext, an in-store analytics firm, and faculty from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business have teamed to more deeply examine shopping and purchasing behavior in retail stores. By examining the full path to purchase in a more granular fashion, the organizations expect to provide a deeper understanding of retail decision drivers.

"The RetailNext platform offers unique visibility into the details of actual behavior in real-world retail environments by incorporating critical data sources like video, which weren't available with previous technologies,” Jean-Pierre Dube, Sigmund E. Edelstone Professor of Marketing and Robert King Steel Faculty Fellow at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said in a statement. “The company's ability to collect, measure and analyze in-store shopper behavior for more than 50 retail chains should yield valuable data that our research team, retail sector and economists can learn from."

"Big Data technology platforms and analytics have advanced to the point where retailers can finally learn as much, if not more, about shopper behavior, than they can online," RetailNext Co-founder and CEO Alexei Agratchev said in a statement.

Evolution Ventures Releass iPad App

Evolution Ventures announced that Cole Real Estate and Urban Retail Properties selected Retail Sage to be their iPad-based leasing tool for their retail leasing teams. Both of the companies will be launched their application at the RECon show. Cole will be leasing upwards of 125 properties with the Sage tool and Urban Retail will be using it for 40 properties nationwide.

Retail Sage is designed for owners and brokers of commercial real estate properties. The application is used by leasing agents to present information on shopping center properties, surrounding areas and available inventory to prospective tenants and their brokers. Through the application and its associated cloud-based information hub, leasing agents have access to up-to-date information on every property across a portfolio.

Wishpond launches Mall360

Wishpond Technologies Ltd. launched of Mall360, a service that allows malls and shopping centers to provide their shoppers with a browsable, searchable, shareable online product discovery application across multiple channels: web, social and mobile.

Wishpond has been working with several beta partners since late 2011 to develop the product. Mall360 is launching initially with Cornwall Centre, a Primaris Retail REIT property in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Visitors to the Cornwall Centre Facebook Page are able to search and browse through products from most of Cornwall Centre’s 90 retailers.

Cornwall Centre currently has more than 8,000 fans on Facebook. BeBeau expects to see further fan growth and greater engagement with its social community with the deployment of Mall360 on its Facebook page.

Wishpond is leveraging its RetailConnect platform to power this service for shopping centers. RetailConnect is a scalable platform for importing, aggregating and processing large volumes of product data from multiple sources, including websites, point of sale systems, and popular e-commerce platforms.

To enable product search across multiple retailers within malls in North America, Wishpond is relying on its store of product data, search capabilities and a publishing platform that enables instant deployment of this product discovery application on a mall’s website, mobile website, mobile app and Facebook page