RECon expo puts eyes on retail, Las Vegas

For shopping center developers and leasing agents in Las Vegas, the annual ICSC Real Estate Convention spotlights the city and presents myriad business opportunities over four days.

For others, it’s a great place to take the temperature of the national economy.

Presented by the International Council of Shopping Centers, RECon brings more than 1,000 exhibitors and an estimated 30,000 industry professionals from around the globe to the Las Vegas Convention Center starting Sunday with registration, orientation and networking.

The convention picks up Monday with the opening of the leasing mall and trade show floor. Early registration was running about 1,400 ahead of last year, council spokesman Jesse Tron said Friday.

“The mood in general is upbeat,” he said. “People are feeling better about where the industry is now compared to last year and definitely over two years ago. People are optimistic that there’s activity again and deals to be done.”

Patrick Done certainly hopes so. The executive vice president of leasing for Tivoli Village will be swamped with appointments, lunch dates and tours of Las Vegas’ newest retail development. He won’t even have time to tweet.

Tivoli Village will staff an exhibit booth at RECon with an objective of bringing prospective tenants to the upscale center, Done said. The 225,000-square-foot first phase is 70 percent leased. Tivoli’s second phase is scheduled to open late 2012, he said.

Done said about a dozen retailers and restaurant operators will visit Tivoli Village over the weekend and he has about 80 meetings set up at his booth, up from 55 last year.

“Now that we’re open, people want to come and see it and they want to test our sales figures and see what the customer traffic is like,” the leasing executive said.

Tivoli’s merchandising mix will progressively expand over the next three to four months and occupancy will probably stabilize around 85 percent in the fall, Done said.

Council officials estimate that roughly 50 percent of industry deals are conceived or consummated on the floor at RECon. Retailers commonly announce new business plans at the show, and that started Friday with the Subway sandwich shop chain saying it plans to open 2,000 new stores this year.

“Even though many of the developers and brokers and retail tenants are from other markets, it’s held here. It’s kind of a home-court advantage,” said Nick Barber, senior associate of investment sales and leasing for Gatski Commercial in Las Vegas. “If we have an asset for sale, we’re able to get in the car and go look at it and set foot on the property. That’s a huge benefit.”

Las Vegas has plenty of retail space to fill. Vacancy for anchored shopping centers rose to 12.3 percent in the first quarter, up from 10 percent a year ago, on 43.9 million square feet of inventory, consulting firm RGC Economics reported. Vacancy has climbed from 5.8 percent in December 2007, the start of the recession.

Retail is suffering from lack of job creation, high consumer debt, rising food and gasoline prices, and the increasing movement to Internet shopping, RGC Economics principal John Restrepo said.

Tron said there’s fundamental improvement in the U.S. economy, certainly in terms of retail sales, which rose slightly from last year as consumers have shown increased optimism about the job market.

RECon workshops will focus on subjects such as how to market a shopping center; accelerating the leasing process; lease defaults and remedies; and trends in operations and management. Key speakers at the convention include Starbucks Corp. CEO Howard Schultz.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at hsmith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0491.

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