Rouse officials optimistic that 1992 will be better

May 17, 1991|By Edward Gunts

This year will be the first in more than a decade that the Rouse Co. won't be opening a large regional shopping center or downtown specialty marketplace in the United States, and the firm is opening only one new building in 1992.

And that may help explain why Rouse's most recent annual report prominently featured past projects -- such as Cherry Hill, which opened in New Jersey in 1961, and Harborplace, opened in 1980 -- rather than projects still to come.

But during the annual shareholders meeting yesterday at the headquarters of the Columbia-based real estate developer, which operates 81 retail centers nationwide, officials said that they're seeing signs the recession is bottoming out as far as retailing and residential sales are concerned, and that they are optimistic 1992 will be better than 1991.

The office market, however, remains slow and may take longer to recover, they warned.

The most optimistic projection came from Executive Vice PresidentR. Harwood Beville, who said that "probably, the worst is behind us."

Although the number of business bankruptcy filings nationwide has recently been running three times higher than normal, he said, only 2 percent of Rouse's merchants have filed for bankruptcy. "Today all of us are sensing a turn in consumer confidence," Mr. Beville said. "Traffic is up. And for a recession that has not officially bottomed out, you can feel a change in the merchants' attitudes."

Tempering Mr. Beville's optimism were remarks from Mathias J. DeVito, Rouse's chairman, president and chief executive officer, who said the 1990-1991 period has brought "the worst recession that our industry has experienced since the 1970s" and that sales were particularly poor in January, "when the world stood still" as a result of the gulf war.

But Mr. DeVito added that Rouse is in a better position to weather the storm than many other development companies because it slowed its development activity in anticipation of a downturn and many of its projects are dominant in their markets.

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