Retail real estate’s
big week out

ICSC’s signature four-day Las Vegas event is both work and play for 36,000
By Mike Seemuth | May 01, 2016 10:15AM
A popular time for private receptions is Monday night, when firms book dozens of venues that draw crowds that range from the hundreds to the thousands.

A popular time for private receptions is Monday night, when firms book dozens of venues that draw crowds that range from the hundreds to the thousands.

What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas. But what happens at RECon, the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual retail real estate convention in Las Vegas, reverberates across the country.

RECon is expected to bring 36,000 attendees to Las Vegas for the networking and deal-making event, including more than 10,000 from California, Florida, New York and Texas alone.

The convention, which runs from May 22 to 25, takes place in the 1-million-square-foot Las Vegas Convention Center. The numerous off-site private parties in Sin City offer plenty of leisure-time options that convention crowds may lack at home.

“Some people fly in on Friday because they want to have the full experience,” said Frank Begrowicz, associate director of the retail brokerage team of Cushman & Wakefield in Miami.

From left: James Wacht and Peter Braus at RECon 2015

From left: James Wacht and Peter Braus at RECon 2015

“I tend to arrive on Sunday,” Begrowicz added. “I can’t tell you that I’ve seen anything particularly crazy. But do I believe things happen. Do I believe that everybody has a Vegas story? Absolutely.”

While rumors of strippers abound, Jesse Tron, vice president of communications for ICSC, which is a New York City–based trade group, said the parties sponsored by the organization in Vegas have never featured them. 

“I cannot speak for other people’s private events,” he told The Real Deal. “I go to one a year. I haven’t seen anything like that.”

The official attraction, of course, is the matrix of people who work in retail real estate, including retail executives, shopping mall owners, real estate developers and brokers, as well as attorneys, architects, engineers and other industry professionals.

The convention formally kicks off with a keynote address on Sunday by basketball- pro-turned-entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh will also speak and professional development sessions will tackle topics like “Reinvention: Property Redevelopment and Repositioning,” “Leasing Strategies for Difficult Spaces” and “Retailer Math 101 for Specialty Leasing.” On Monday, after a lunchtime talk by Restoration Hardware CEO Gary Friedman, forward-looking sessions will include “Tomorrow’s Shopping Centers, Today” and “Retail Technology Trends to Watch.” Tuesday’s offerings will take on the economics of a lease (from both the developer and retailer perspectives) as well as strategies to foster thriving mixed-use spaces.

“Monday and Tuesday are the big dealmaking days,” Tron said. “It’s a lot of business happening in a very condensed time period.”

A popular time slot for private receptions is Monday night. Cushman & Wakefield, for example, hosts a posh party for retail clients. “We’ve been doing it a long time. It’s a poolside cocktail party at the Four Seasons,” Begrowicz said. “We’re a little bit more reserved than some of the other guys [who] rent out nightclubs to throw their events. We’re a little more serene.”

Partygoing is as much a part of the agenda as mingling on the convention floor.

Partygoing is as much a part of the agenda as mingling on the convention floor.

Among the biggest private parties timed to coincide with RECon 2016 will be CBRE’s clients-only reception Monday evening at the XS nightclub inside the Encore Hotel. The commercial real estate brokerage firm expects attendance this spring at its annual party to top last year’s 1,650.

In recent years CBRE has ended up delivering RECon’s largest number of attendees (with some 800 employees at 2015’s confab) and appears to be on track to retain that status this May with about 900. Other major brokerages will contribute in the hundreds as well. As of mid-April, the registered attendees totaled 254 for Cushman & Wakefield, 228 for JLL and 197 for Marcus & Millichap.

Developers and brokers essentially transplant their offices to the convention floor. They occupy some of RECon’s biggest and most opulent booths, replete with tables and seating for attendees, private rooms for meetings, greeters and refreshments. There might even be a bit of booth envy: CBRE’s booth this year will extend 12,850 square feet.

“Just to give you some comparison, that is the size of a typical freestanding Walgreens,” said Steven Gartner, Philadelphia-based managing director for CBRE Retail. “To call it a booth is really an understatement.”

A standout booth on the convention floor, of course, can pay for itself — if it attracts attention from wealthy prospects. “You have guys wandering the aisles who are second- and third-generation real estate owners worth hundreds of millions of dollars and the people with the booths have the presence,” Gartner said. “Last year, we had approximately 2,000 meetings on-site in our booth. That doesn’t count meetings our professionals have off-site at somebody else’s booth.”

Registrants for this year’s event hail mainly from the States but some are traveling from other parts of the Americas, as well as Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and the Middle East.

Big Apple conference-goers may be far from home, but they won’t be far from other New Yorkers. In April, the count of registered attendees from New York stood at 4,564, handily outnumbering those from other states, including California (3,335), Texas (2,375), Florida (1,309) and Illinois (1,439).

“It’s gotten to be much bigger. It’s like the Super Bowl of commercial real estate,” said Jason Pruger, executive managing director of retail at the New York–based brokerage firm Newmark Grubb Knight Frank. “Before it was just developers, brokers and tenants and now there are lawyers, insurance agents, people selling software. It’s just much broader in scope.”

The sheer size of the convention is logistically daunting and many firms therefore host spaces away from the convention floor. “In the past few years we have noticed a trend of larger corporations no longer exhibiting on the convention floor and, instead, setting up meeting rooms in other Las Vegas settings,” said Elizabeth DeVille, marketing manager for Miami-based real estate services firm Terranova Corp., which has exhibited at ICSC’s annual convention since the 1990s.

Gartner of CBRE said maintaining a robust presence at the ICSC convention is critical to his firm’s success. “I see what my rivals are doing, so it keeps us on a competitive footing,” he told TRD. “We often find out news and information about our own local markets. If you are a player in this business, you’re there.” TRD