There was quite a bit of excitement heading into this year’s RECon convention. The event is, in many respects, the annual event for retail real estate professionals from around the country (and more recently from around the world). It seemed to have a little bit more industry buzz going for it than in recent years. I think the combination of some encouraging economic indicators and the feeling that the industry is on the cusp of what may be a more sustainable long-term recovery had everyone’s optimism in high gear. As mentioned in my column previously, I hadn’t felt this kind of pre-conference energy and optimism since 2007.
So did RECon deliver?
Well…honestly, I’m not quite sure how to feel about the conference. While there were—as always—lots of exciting people, projects, brands, ideas and energy, there’s a definite sense that somehow this year’s iteration didn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations that many of us had built up for it. I think one of the reasons is because attendance seemed a little softer than anticipated. That said, it’s fair to ask the question if attendance was really a little down, or if it just wasn’t as packed as we expected it to be. Another reason for the lower foot traffic might be that several of the biggest REITs, including names like Simon and Westfield, are still conducting their meetings off site. I think this contributed greatly to that “slightly less crowded” vibe we experienced.
It did seem to me that the general mood at the event was quite good, and the consensus appeared to be that the industry is moving in the right direction. Whether it is a meaningful barometer or not I don’t know, but I think it’s worth noting that the parties and social/networking events this year seemed to be a bit more festive and upscale than in recent years. Developers actually spent a bit more than I thought they would on that aspect of the convention.
As far as trends go, I think the international presence continues to be an important story. While it wasn’t quite as strong as I thought it would be, it was still up significantly over just a few years ago. Asian developers and consultants, including architects, market planners and leasing people, were present in force, and there seemed to be a solid Central and South America presence as well. Interestingly, there didn’t seem to be a strong European presence, but given the current economic uncertainties across the pond, that wasn’t all too surprising. The municipal presence was solid as expected. And, I thought it was a good logistical move to have their booths all together in a central location this year.
As for industry trends, it struck me that while the number of potential retail sites doesn’t seem to be up dramatically, the competition for sites seems pretty strong. It really is quite surprising to me how, despite an abundance of mixed-use chatter, relatively few developers are actively pursuing mixed use projects/locations. I hear a lot about how “the investment community won’t understand the project.” I think there could be a number of other reasons as well: there are fewer analogs, the projects tend to be more complex and require more sophisticated market research, design and leasing; and there’s some level of trepidation and uncertainty based on the lack of understanding. I think there are unrealized opportunities in that space, which I’ll talk more about in a future column.
What do you think? Was RECon all you expected it to be? What were your biggest takeaways? Please make a public comment below or feel free to e-mail me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for past columns by Jeff Green.