It seems like few days pass lately without some striking piece of data about the lousy real estate market. But today came one number that was particularly striking.
That's how many square feet of retail space was completed in the U.S. in 2010, according to a report from commercial real estate data firm CoStar. That's it. Twelve million, nationwide.
For a little comparison, Hazelwood's St. Louis Mills shopping center alone is 1.1 million square feet. So less than 12 of those were built across the whole country.
That makes 2010, by far, the slowest year for retail development on record. In 2009, which previously held that record, CoStar counted about 70 million square feet of new space. Going back to 1970, no other year saw less than 90 million, and the average over that time was 132 million square feet - 2010's production, eleven-fold.
Now, there are lots of reasons to think this is a good thing. Most parts of the country have more shopping space than they need. In metro St. Louis, you can see empty big box stores and half-vacant strip centers on most major roadways, even as new ones open up. Three big indoor malls are all but defunct.
Indeed, retail square footage in this country has grown two and a half times as fast as the population since 1970. CoStar counts about 50 square feet per person. Putting the brakes on new shopping centers may help demand catch up with supply.
But don't expect it to last. Even in relatively slow-growth St. Louis, developers are floating plans for new shopping centers in various spots. Some retailers are in expansion mode again. And when CoStar puts out this report a year from now, figure the number for 2011 will be higher than 2010.