Monday afternoon, as the CRE Finance Council‘s January 2013 conference got underway, security from the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, with good reason, was making sure to check IDs as attendees made their way to the section of the hotel reserved for the afternoon’s meetings. A guard told The Mortgage Observer that it wasn’t uncommon for players to try to forgo the registration fee and opt, instead, to suit up and make a run for it.
It was a phenomenon that we, in fact, witnessed for ourselves, while waiting to chat with CRE Finance Council CEO Stephen Renna. Apparently, the group’s efforts to grow the conference–and expand the relevance of the organization–have paid off and made it one hot ticket.
“Attendance is definitely going up,” Mr. Renna said when we did catch up with him. He pointed to 2013 conference registrations that were already above 1,300, not counting walk up registrations and said that a greater percentage of investors have been coming, in fact making up the second largest block of attendees by group.
The variety of conference sponsors, alone, is another indicator that CREFC’s membership, and services to that membership, has grown. Sustaining sponsors, for example, include CWCapital Asset Management, Dechert and the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.
Mr. Renna, who has been at the helm of the organization for about a year and a half now, said that the mood among membership heading into 2013 is generally optimistic, a sentiment echoed by other attendees.
“They know that these loans are attached to something that you can touch and feel,” he said of the landscape for commercial real estate financing. “It not some sort of exotic investment structure but you’re actually investing in something. And I think investors feel largely comfortable with that, because it’s a knowable investment.” This has all led to healthy amount of capital flowing to the industry, whether from CMBS or sources like mezzanine debt.
Mr. Renna said that one of the new aspects to this year’s program will be a real focus on hot topics. “We always change the program, but one of the things that we were really challenging our conference co-chairs with was to really determine what the hot topic issues in the industry,” he said. “What are the top of the mind issues that people want to hear experts in the industry speak to?”
Asked if there were any types of lenders lagging in the organization’s makeup that might be further brought into the fold, Mr. Renna said banks that only lend for balance sheet purposes.
“The major banks that have CMBS platforms know about us,” he said. “What we’re trying to do with them is incorporate more of their balance sheet people into the organization, because they have a lot of their CMBS people already in the organization, attuned to what we do, they know what our benefits are they participate.”
He said that CREFC has made progress bringing these other sides of banks into the group by making sure that they know that relevant platforms are available. Still, though, he said that there was more to do where broadening the organization is concerned.
“We have certainly made strides,” he said. “I was brought on to execute the strategic plan to make CREFC the organization that it is today–one for the voice of commercial real estate finance broadly.”
Following the January conference the group will make a few key hires, though no exponential growth is planned.