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2017-04-21 — bloomberg.com

With customer traffic sagging, U.S. retail landlords are using their sprawling concrete lots to host events such as carnivals, concerts and food-truck festivals. They're aiming to lure visitors with experiences that can't be replicated online -- and then get them inside the properties to spend some money.

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The idea is gaining traction. Next month, Simon Property is having the first carnival in its Round Rock Premium Outlets parking lot, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Austin, Texas. Similar events are being held for the first time at locations such as Central Mall in Port Arthur, Texas, managed by Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., and a Cheyenne, Wyoming, mall owned by CBL & Associates Properties Inc. In July, Simon Property's Orland Square Mall, southwest of Chicago, will be holding its first parking-lot food-truck festival, with plans for live music performances, Herkimer said.

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Some malls are doing fine even without renting out their outdoor space, especially higher quality properties with upscale stores. They have been drawing visitors with grocery stores, medical offices and high-end restaurants -- all businesses that face less risk from e-commerce competition than traditional tenants. Some retail REITs are adding office space or apartments to their portfolios to diversify.

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"This very painful process will surely take more than five years," Steven Roth, Vornado Realty Trust's chief executive officer, said in a letter to shareholders this month. "It will also create enormous opportunity for those with the capital and management platforms to feed on the carnage."

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