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Nexus Malls, the retail platform of US-based asset manager Blackstone Group, has seen a strong bounceback in occupancy, footfall and sales at its shopping malls recently, higher than even pre-covid levels of 2019, and is actively looking to expand its existing portfolio of 17 shopping malls.

The company is eyeing both standalone shopping centres as well as a clutch of malls as potential acquisitions, which would be upgraded and turned around, said a top executive.

Nexus Malls, which is the country’s largest retail platform, has nearly 10 million sq ft of Grade A shopping centres across 13 cities. It made its first acquisition in 2015, and houses the retail assets of Blackstone, which is also the largest commercial office space owner in the country. Once Blackstone acquires a shopping mall, it is then brought under Nexus to operate.

“Consumption has been strong in April and May and presently we have recovered over 130% of sales and more than 100% footfall at a portfolio level compared to 2019. Cinema has been a big driver and has seen 160% recovery compared to pre-covid led by the big releases in recent months, along with the food and beverage business," said Dalip Sehgal, chief executive officer, Nexus Malls.

Occupancy levels in its malls, which were 92-93% leased in 2019 and lost a bit during the pandemic, is currently about 95% leased across the portfolio, he added.

Malls in Bengaluru have fared better. The Shantiniketan mall has seen 200% sales recovery while the one in Koramangala has been at 170% compared to pre-covid times.

The firm aims to add more shopping malls to its portfolio through acquisitions made by Blackstone. Sehgal said it is looking at acquisitions, including brownfield or operating assets that will help expand the portfolio geographically and size.

“We are geographically well-represented and we want to be in cities where we are not present. When we look to acquire new assets, it would make sense to acquire larger malls, of at least half a million sq ft. Newer malls coming up today are also sized at a million sq. ft or more. Demand from the top three retailers is very strong and they want to add anything between 500-1,000 stores in the next couple of years," Sehgal said.

Nexus Malls on Wednesday said it has consolidated its 17 retail properties under one new brand identity. The consolidation into one name, Nexus Malls, comes after a string of acquisitions, including eight shopping centres from Prestige Group in 2021. The company has started rebranding its retail properties starting with south India in May 2022.

The Forum Vijaya Mall in Chennai is the eighth and last mall from the Prestige retail portfolio that has come into the Nexus fold in March. It has so far invested about 100 crore in upgrading and marketing the Prestige retail assets.

Offline stores have made a strong comeback, as many malls see high footfalls driven by not just shopping, but also food and entertainment, including cinema in a big way. After 12-18 months, mall owners and operators are also hiking rentals, in line with pre-covid rates or even a notch above.

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