For the first time in quite some time, attendees at the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) Spring Convention in Las Vegas (RECon) might be hoping that what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. There is no doubt in my mind that all the signs are pointing to an event that looks very different than the last few years. The convention runs from Sunday, May 19th through Wednesday, May 22nd at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and will play host to more than 30,000 attendees, around 1,000 exhibitors, and a renewed sense of enthusiasm about the future of our industry.
It’s not just the pre-convention energy and activity that has gotten my attention this year; there also seem to be some new, largely positive trends, which will almost certainly be evident over the course of the event. Here are a few of my observations about what seems to be different — and what we can look forward to — at the 2013 ICSC:
First off, everyone’s schedule is fully booked, and has been for the last several weeks. Not only is this the earliest I have known those personal and professional appointment books to be fully packed, but some meetings started being formally scheduled in March. I can’t remember a time when ICSC meetings were being planned that early in the year. The big question, of course, is whether or not those meetings will pan out: Will the busier schedules translate into deals or development momentum? There is no way to answer that question now, of course, but I think it is, at the very least, a positive indicator.
A change in focus
I also anticipate that a great deal of what is going to be presented to the retailers from the developers at this year’s RECon will be focused on redevelopment and mixed use. Comparatively speaking, there is still not a significant amount of new development out there. What is happening instead is that we are seeing attention paid to assets that have been ignored for a long time. Whether the planned changes in store for many of those assets are mostly cosmetic changes intended to attract tenants, or more along the lines of larger expansions or wholesale renovations, the desire for new investment is clearly evident.
Redevelopment opportunities in metro/urban markets have been a corresponding focus. I interpret this to mean that developers aren’t going after areas of suburban or exurban population growth as much as in the past, and are looking more at places with strong population/demographics already in place. Another trend I see in play that will likely make itself felt at ICSC is the tendency for retailers to look more closely at smaller markets than they have in the past. To a large degree, I think this is because they are rolling out smaller formats, giving them the flexibility to be able to move into both smaller markets and add more urban locations.
It’s also worth noting that there seem to be a larger number of parties and social events scheduled in 2013. While that might sound frivolous, this represents a deeper change of thinking: that developers and retailers believe these gatherings and special events (which are really a marketing expense) are once again worth the investment. And, given how quickly the ICSC parties and social events evaporated during the depths of the recession, their return is, to me at least, one more welcome sign of a recovery. Lastly, I found out the hard way that ICSC is virtually sold out of the rooms and lodging packages that are made available at special pricing for the convention. There is a definite positive mood out there when people are lining up to get to Vegas.
I’d be interested to hear from those planning to attend ICSC this year: Have your plans changed for 2013? Are you seeing any signs that this year’s convention could be action-packed relative to past years? What are you looking forward to at the event? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below or feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com.
Click here for past columns by Jeff Green.