Cities like New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. have been successful at integrating retail into the urban mix by embracing the vertical integration of traditional shopping center retailers. But is the market oversaturated?

A panel of eight national retailers and developers speaking at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ (ICSC) New York National Conference and Deal Making, held on December 5-6, agreed that, for a wide variety of reasons, urban retail “is not the last frontier, but an evolving and continuing one,” in the words of moderator Ken Narva, co-founder and managing partner of Street Works, a White Plains, N.Y.-based development and planning consultancy.

The challenges urban retail presents for developers and retailers depend on the location of the stores, the availability of mass transportation, trade area population and store product.

It’s important to remember that New York City is “the ultimate urban location, it isn’t American and the rules of Manhattan don’t apply to the rest of the U.S.,” said Peter Ripka, partner at Ripco Real Estate. “No place else has 30 million people all living within 50 miles.”

For urban retail to be successful, there must not be any disparity between function and urban space, said G. Lamont Blackstone, principal of G.L. Blackstone & Associates LLC, a Mount Vernon, N.Y.-based real estate development company. He noted that he often finds an “intrinsic tension” between a community’s desire for parking and the operator’s ideas.

Daniel Shallit, Sports Authority’s director or real estate for the northeast region, said that regardless of a store’s location—whether in a suburban mall or an urban vertical location—Sports Authority needs parking because “you can’t buy a treadmill and take it on the bus or train.” The company has tackled the challenge by offering more soft goods in urban locations and focusing on equipment sales in suburban stores. However, Shallit added, Sports Authority does best when located near transit hubs so that commuters taking mass transportation can notice the stores and return on weekends.

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