More than 33,000 real estate professionals are expected to descend on Las Vegas this month for commercial real estate’s largest conference, the International Council of Shopping Centers’ RECon Las Vegas.
The conference, which takes place in a 1 million-square-foot space in the Las Vegas Convention Center, provides unparalleled networking and deal-making opportunities, brokers said, and is especially helpful for connecting with retailers who aren’t yet in New York.
“I don’t need to go 3,000 miles away to do business with people I see every day,” said Patrick Breslin, executive vice president of the national retail group at the Manhattan-based commercial firm Studley. “It’s a great way to spend time with the people I do business with a couple times a year, or from the Middle East or Asia.”
By now, experienced conference-goers have already started working their smartphones to schedule dinners, lunches and meetings with potential clients and colleagues for this year’s conference. Meanwhile, companies have started tweeting their booth locations to ensure they get a good turnout.
Experienced industry pros said they typically have 30 to 40 meetings during the course of the conference. Some said they arrive days — or even a full week — in advance to get ready, preparing their booths and networking with other early birds.
Eastern Consolidated Senior Director Adelaide Polsinelli, who will be attending ICSC for the sixth time this year, said she expects to seal retail condo deals while at the convention, in addition to cultivating new out-of-town clients who are looking to diversify into the New York City market. Her daily schedule is already filled with client one-on-ones, dinners and parties.
“By now, people are already booked,” she said.
This year’s conference is on track to be the biggest since before the 2008 financial crisis, ICSC organizers said. Of more than 1,000 exhibitors this year, 160 of them are newcomers, including Sprint, IBM and Starwood Capital Group. Over 1,000 companies are expected to attend, including 100 retailers.
Preparation for the conference starts months in advance, as companies organize elaborate booths — many with built-in conference rooms and offices — that can sometimes cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And many of those booths entice visitors with raffles for everything from iPads to fancy cars, while retailers create full-size versions of their stores within the convention center’s halls.
Sandwich shop Jersey Mike’s Subs, for example, last year created a temporary Jersey Mike’s restaurant inside the convention center, providing freshly made sandwiches to passersby.
These displays are organized into “malls,” long rows of booths complete with addresses and street names. For example, Cushman & Wakefield’s booth is located on the corner of 13th Avenue and J Street. At S246 Q Street in the Convention Center South Hall, Marcus & Millichap will be showcasing its investment property inventory.
The sheer size of the conference, along with various parties and dinners taking place all over Vegas, means “you really need to chart your itinerary,” said Polsinelli. “You’ve got three days to really make the impression, finalize and get the deal done.”
Her ideal method is to initiate a deal on Monday night at a brokerage’s party, sign the deal on Tuesday morning from her firm’s booth, and celebrate it at the New York Developers Party.
KeyBank’s John Manginelli recommended that brokers write out a “wish list” of potential clients and industry contacts they want to meet and then research all of their recent business.
“Do your homework, make a target list, go by their booths and get a commitment to meet back at home,” he said.
Planning a geographic route through Vegas is key, said Winick Realty Executive Vice President Lori Shabtai.
“Three years ago, I had meetings everywhere, I was going from building to building, and I ended up spending the three days in the limo!” Shabtai recalled. As a result, she felt like she didn’t spend enough time at Winick’s booth and walking around the “malls.”
“Schedule, schedule, schedule, and look at the map,” she advised.
To help with that, The Real Deal talked to top brokers to find out where they’ll be spending their time.
May 12 to 18
Brokers say the days leading up to the conference are perfect for small, intimate gatherings. Shabtai said Winick, like other firms, entertains guests poolside in cabanas during this period, which allows her to spend quality time with landlords, brokers and potential clients.
For Shabtai, the networking in advance of the conference is as important as the conference itself. “In the few days before the conference starts, I make a tremendous amount of connections,” she said.
Sunday, May 19
Marketplace Mall: Las Vegas
Convention Center (noon to 5 p.m.)
On Sunday the conference is still gearing up, with most conference attendees just arriving, or spending the day on the golf course before getting down to business. Still, the so-called “Marketplace Mall” opens in the afternoon, allowing attendees to begin mingling with more than 300 product suppliers and service companies: contractors, architects, tech companies and the like. New this year is the “Marketplace Mall Education Hall,” featuring 30-minute “power sessions” on topics like retail-lighting trends and roof maintenance.
Las Vegas Convention Center
This year’s keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Steven Levitt, an economist and co-author of the best-selling books “Freakonomics” and “SuperFreakonomics.” Levitt will discuss his trademark counterintuitive economic theories and how they apply to real estate.
Panel: “Retail: The Next Wave”
Las Vegas Convention Center
This panel discussion, moderated by New York hotshot broker Faith Hope Consolo, the chairman of Douglas Elliman’s retail group, draws a large crowd every year, brokers said.
This year’s panelists include Stephen Gallant of men’s apparel company JoS. A. Bank Clothiers and Ann Taylor’s Buck Sappenfield. The discussion will focus on the effects of technology on brick-and-mortar stores’ expansion plans. Consolo told TRD she expects 350 to 400 people to attend.
Sunday evening parties
In years past, Thor Equities’ poolside party at the Encore Beach Club has drawn thousands of people, and has been the unofficial kick-off event of ICSC. This year, however, a Thor spokesperson said the company will not throw its customary big bash (the spokesperson remained mum on whether company head Joe Sitt will host a more intimate gathering). There are several parties taking its place, however. Massey Knakal Realty Services has joined forces with Fidelity National Title Company for an invitation-only reception at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole restaurant at the Mandalay Bay hotel. And the law firm Jones Day is hosting a private reception Sunday evening at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. After events like these, many brokers head off to private dinners.
Monday, May 20
Booth hopping: Leasing Mall and Marketplace Mall
(8 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Monday and Tuesday are the busiest conference days, with brokers flocking to both the Marketplace Mall and the “Leasing Mall,” which features exhibits by shopping centers and retailers. Brokers said this time spent booth hopping is the most crucial part of ICSC, since deals and connections are made on the floor.
Shabtai recalled chatting about her love of yoga with a visitor to Winick’s booth several years ago. The visitor turned out to be a top player at the fitness company Yogaworks, and Shabtai is now representing the company in its Manhattan expansion.
Keynote address: “A Day in the Life of the Modern Consumer,” Randi Zuckerberg, Las Vegas
Convention Center (1:30 p.m.)
Zuckerberg, former head of marketing at Facebook and the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, will discuss the impact of new and emerging social media platforms and how they can influence consumer behavior. Zuckerberg, the sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, will also address new business development ideas such as “gamification.”
Monday night parties
After the market crashed in 2008, ICSC parties — and the conference itself — were somewhat tame. “People were losing jobs; no one was really in a party mood,” Breslin said. But as the economy has picked up, sources say there are more parties and that they’re getting more elaborate.
“I had 27 parties on my list last year,” Polsinelli said. “I think I made it to 17.” Industry insiders said there will be even more this year.
Last year, some two-dozen brokerages, banks and law firms hosted parties on Monday night, competing to lure CEOs and other industry hotshots.
Among the most anticipated soirées is Newmark Grubb Knight Frank’s annual bash, which is always held Monday night and usually attracts long lines of partygoers anxious to get inside. This year, it will take place at the Marquee Las Vegas nightclub, starting at 7 p.m.
“Our party, Newmark’s party, is Monday night. We have it every year. We own that night, and the RSVPs are through the roof,” Newmark’s Jeffrey Roseman told the Commercial Observer last year. “You’re going to have to sneak in.”
KeyBank’s Manginelli singled out Cantor Fitzgerald’s annual party as a highlight, noting that it attracts a high-caliber group of New York brokers. Cushman & Wakefield is holding its party at the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas on Monday at 6:30 p.m. And the real estate team at law firm Gibson Dunn is hosting a basketball-themed cocktail party in the Palms’ Hardwood Suite, a 10,000-square-foot, two-story space boasting an indoor basketball court, locker room and scoreboard.
Not surprisingly, Monday night’s parties sometimes even spill into Tuesday, brokers said, noting that it’s not unusual for real estate pros to head home at dawn.
Some brokers suggest keeping sober during these marathon fiestas, to help facilitate business and connections, while others dive head first into the spirit (and spirits).
Tuesday, May 21
“Meet the Trustees” breakfast:
Las Vegas Convention Center
This event is a must-attend, especially for ICSC newbies, insiders said. It features a round-table discussion and meet-and-greet with the ICSC’s Board of Trustees, which includes such high-profile execs as Foot Locker CEO Ken Hicks; Ken Bernstein, President and CEO of Acadia Realty Trust; and Scott Nelson, senior vice president for real estate at Target Corp. Getting to know these top players on a personal level is invaluable, brokers said.
Keynote address: Gregory Wasson, president &
CEO of Walgreens,
Las Vegas Convention Center
The Walgreens pharmacy head is slated to discuss Obamacare and its impact on the retail drugstore industry, along with Walgreens’ recent move to take an equity interest in Alliance Boots GmbH, an international health and beauty company.
16th Annual New York Developers Party:
Bellagio (time TBD)
The New York Developers is a group of 15 retail real estate development and investment firms based in the New York metropolitan area, including the Feil Organization and the Mattone Group. Their annual invitation-only party, held poolside at the Bellagio, is widely seen as ICSC’s big finale and always well-attended by players from nearly every facet of the industry — from contractors to retail CEOs. Last year’s party famously featured women dressed as mermaids. “Mermaids!” one broker recalled incredulously. “It’s a must-attend,” Consolo told TRD.
Wednesday, May 22, and beyond
The Leasing Mall will remain open on Wednesday, but most firms said they’ll be closing up shop and heading home at that point. Once back in New York, following up on conference leads is, of course, critical, brokers said.
Many deals are actually done long after the conference, Shabtai added. She first met representatives from a movie theater company at ICSC, and years later they’re still looking for the right space to open a branch in New York City.
“You never know who’s going to be on the other end of a smile or handshake at ICSC,” Shabtai said. “It’s this microcosm of the real estate world.”