Friday, May 14, 2010 | 10:59 a.m.
The tough times within the retail development industry are evident in this year’s convention of the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Two years after attracting more than 45,000 attendees, slightly more than 30,000 are expected in Las Vegas May 23-25 for RECon 2010, the world’s largest gathering of real estate professionals – a conference the city has hosted continuously since 1986. A little more than 31,000 attended the event in 2009. ICSC has 60,000 members in 90 countries from which to draw.
This year’s convention has been changed to make it more affordable by chopping the schedule from four days to three. But organizers said less doesn’t diminish from the convention that like last year has 1,000 exhibitors, including developers and retailers. RECon will have 50 educational sessions and workshops led by shopping center industry experts.
When the economy was good, companies brought their entire team, including lower-level people to get experience, said ICSC spokesman Jesse Tron. Today, it’s attended by the people who make the deals, he said.
“When companies are hurting that’s not an option. What happened last year and again this year, is companies are sending only key decision makers. The number of people may have dropped but the key people are still there. That’s the important part. You have an unprecedented opportunity to interact with all the top decision makers from the developers, shopping center owners and retailers.”
Michael Niemira, the chief economist for ICSC, said the retail industry is past its low point and should have sustained growth in the second half of 2010. Same-store sales are expected to increase 3 percent to 3.5 percent this year, according to his forecast.
Since September, same-store sales have been up through March compared to the previous year, with the exception of November that was down slightly, he said.
This year’s theme is “Poised for Progress,” which focuses the educational sessions on what’s happening in the economy, Tron said. Although there may not be as many opportunities because of the economic downturn, they exist, he said.
“What that is alluding to is that we are on the cusp and you need to be ready to take advantage of every opportunity once they present themselves in the not too distant future,” Tron said. “Networking with peers is that catalyst for the next idea once the market turns around.”
The dynamics of the retail development market have shifted for now.
Until credit becomes available for new projects, much of the focus has been on redeveloping existing shopping centers, Tron said. In some cases, when an anchor tenant goes bankrupt at a mall, shopping centers are remodeling the space to make it an open-air component rather than part of an enclosed mall.
Some larger shopping centers are even bringing in non-traditional tenants. Instead of having all retail in their center, they may bring in a doctor’s office or karate school, Tron said.
The convention opens May 23 with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the featured speaker at 1:30 p.m. She will talk about leadership qualities.
Later that night actor Kevin Nealon hosts a gala in which ICSC will honor the best examples of shopping center design, development, sustainability, marketing and community service.
Other speakers at the convention include former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, Blake Nordstrom, the president of Nordstrom Inc., and Virginia Postel, author and former New York Times economic columnist.
Registration fees for RECon 2010 are $575 for members and $1,150 for nonmembers.