During by Stephen Lebovitz 12 years as CEO of shopping center real estate investment trust CBL Properties, he guided the company through the aftermath of the Great Recession, the decade of recovery that followed, and then a difficult time during the pandemic when CBL had to file for bankruptcy protection.
That’s why CBL’s recent rebound has Lebovitz optimistic. The Based in Chattanooga, TN REITS his father, Charles B. Lebovitz, launched in 1978, posted strong earnings this month and raised its full-year guidance accordingly. Stephen Lebovitz, who took over as CEO in 2010, said 2021 – when it emerged from a Chapter 11 reorganization – was a pivotal year for the company whose name reflects his father’s initials.
“2021 was the healthiest year for our business in 15 to 20 years, and it continues this year,” Lebovitz said during an interview at ICSC 2022 Las Vegas. “There’s really, I think, a narrative shift with the importance for retailers to have brick-and-mortar stores as part of an omnichannel strategy. Stores matter, malls thrive, people come back. People want to shop, so it’s good for us, and it’s good for our business.”
Lebovitz said his business rebound was supported by strong performance from his retail tenants “across the board.”
“There’s just been a healthy recovery for all of our mall properties. Our smaller shops have had really strong sales. We’ve really had no bankruptcies, no store closures, percentage rents have gone up, revenue temporary increased in specialty stores,” he said. mentioned. “We had some increase in expenses, but we were able to control and manage them.”
This performance followed what was probably the toughest year in CBL’s history, as the pandemic and underperforming malls forced the company to seek bankruptcy protection and prompted the New York Stock Exchange. York to initiate proceedings to delist the company’s common stock and suspend trading in the shares in November. 2020.
The REIT re-entered the listing of the shares on the New York Stock Exchange in November 2021 under the symbol CBL. Its common stock traded on the OTC bulletin board, also known as the “pink sheets,” using the symbol CBLAQ before returning to the NYSE.
Even after CBL emerged from bankruptcy, the hangover continued until this year, when in April the REIT lost control of the Cincinnati malls; Chesapeake, Virginia; and Asheville, North Carolina, which went into receivership.
Lebovitz said the trio of properties “have been in transition for some time.”
“It just takes a bit of time to filter through the system with CMBS loans and services,” he said. “We wanted to release a stable portfolio, and that means we’re not going to include something that we don’t have a long-term strategy for, [that] we don’t see being a long-term caretaker. So the wallet we have now is really something we’re comfortable with.”
CBL’s portfolio now contains 95 properties totaling nearly 60 million square feet in 24 states. He understands 57 enclosed malls, outlet centers and lifestyle malls and 30 outdoor centres.
Lebovitz said CBL plans to continue with its plan to redevelop several of its malls by adding different uses, typically to their surface parking lots. The REIT expects to still see “more diverse types of uses” in its commercial properties, he said.
“We actually did a few supermarkets and got their interest, so it’s a new element,” he said. “[We] continue to attract interest from mixed use, medical, residential, office, hotel, entertainment. So it’s been really great to see, just the continued way it helps us evolve and expand the mix that we have at the properties.”
Lebovitz said he never considered adding multiple types of different property uses, such as casinos, to CBL properties. “It made things more fun because it’s a creative endeavor,” he said.