The annual ICSC retail conference has kicked off at the Las Vegas Convention Center, drawing more than 30,000 real estate professionals, including some of the country’s largest retailers, developers and real estate services companies. The event is widely considered the industry’s Super Bowl of networking and dealmaking. Though the conference started officially on Sunday, by Monday morning the convention center’s sprawling floors—which make the Javits Center seem pint-size—comes alive in earnest with crowds of retail professionals. Here are a few observations from the opening hours of the conference. —Daniel Geiger
8:30 – The Commercial Observer steps out into the cab line at The Palms to head to the convention center. In the queue are several other ICSC-goers. A man quickly steps from the pack and offers to split a cab. He’s in his 30s, from New Orleans, and says he runs his own brokerage company. He looks incredibly bleary-eyed and wears dark sunglasses. “I was out till 4 a.m. last night at XS,” he explains, purporting XS (pronounced excess) to be the best club in Vegas. The cab driver chimes in that pool parties have become a popular destination for fun-seekers. “They’re top-tional,” he says. The broker takes note. Where are the best parties? he asks. “The Cosmo,” the cabby replies. He has taken several fares to the conference so far: “It seems like a busy year,” he says.
9:15 – Swarms of suited conference-goers stream into the convention center.
9:17 – The CO bumps into Ed Hogan, a director of retail leasing at Brookfield Properties. “You can definitely judge how good of a year you’ll have leasing from the mood here,” he says, surveying the hordes of people. Mr. Hogan is about to speak on a panel, then has meetings. Later he plans to go to a party hosted by Deutsche Bank at the Cosmo. “Are you staying at the Cosmo?” The CO asks, noting the killer pool parties there. “No,” Mr. Hogan responds. “We own the Hard Rock, so I’m staying there.”
9:30 – An intolerably humongous line snakes through a Starbucks kiosk. The CO approaches a broker, Virginia Gully, from Illinois, who has just emerged with a coffee in hand, asking how she could brave such a wait. “It was 35 minutes,” she says. “I could sell you this coffee right now, couldn’t I?” A true broker. “While I was waiting in line, I met an executive at Starbucks,” she goes on to say. “At ICSC, you can do business anywhere, even waiting in line.” Why was the executive in line? Couldn’t he cut? “He knows we would have mugged him.”
9:35 – Amira Yunis, a top retail broker at CBRE, is buzzing about the company’s sprawling booth near the entrance to the north wing of the convention center. “A woman just passed out,” Ms. Yunis says, visibly concerned. “I hope she’s okay.” A broker from another office apparently has fainted on the other side of CBRE’s booth and is being attended to.
Ms. Yunis gathers herself. She has a series of meetings with tenants and landlords, she says, including a tenant who is running late.
“We’re going to be talking about 1535 Third Avenue,” Ms. Yunis says, referring to a property she is representing that is owned by the Olnick Organization on 87th and Third Avenue that has retail space available. Seth Schochet, an executive at Olnick, arrives. “I’m optimistic about what I’m seeing,” he says. “We’re going to meet with tenants. I don’t think we’ll necessarily nail down the deal here, but I think we’ll get something started.” Across the room, a few medics have arrived to take care of the woman who passed out. She’s back on her feet. “She’s going to be fine,” one of the medics says.
10:10 – Highwoods Properties’ booth prominently displays a Pittsburgh property called PPG Plaza that The CO recognizes. The building, a modern glass skyscraper built in a Gothic style with castle-like turrets on its crown, is distinct. “We’re looking to lease the building’s retail space,” says Gayle Terry, a director of marketing at the company. “With its architecture it was used in the upcoming Batman movie, so look for it.”
10:30 – Glenn Rufrano, Cushman & Wakefield’s chief executive, sits at the center of C&W’s booth in a meeting at a small desk. Joanne Podell, a top C&W retail broker, waits nearby for clients she is going to meet. “In recent years tenants were looking to be more opportunistic,” she says. “They would ask, what kinds of spaces do you have? This year they’re being more strategic, they’re telling me how many stores they want to open and in what markets. It shows confidence.” Mr. Rufrano breaks from his meeting in the booth to head to another elsewhere on the conference floor. “I always come to ICSC,” says Mr. Rufrano, who before C&W was the chief executive of Centro, a large mall operator.
“I love it here.”
10:45 – Billy Cohen, an executive at Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, strolls by the C&W booth and stops to chat with C&W retail executive Brad Mendelson. “I come here every year,” says Mr. Cohen, a top office-leasing executive in the city. “There’s space at the bottom of office buildings with glass windows, it’s called retail space,” he says, explaining that he likes to work retail dealmaking into the services he provides as an office broker.
11:10 – Peter Braus, an executive at the fledgling New York branch of Lee & Associates, is in the company’s booth preparing marketing materials for a large agency assignment he’s handling in Williamsburg, 247 Bedford Avenue. “The space is right across the street from where the new Whole Foods is going to be,” he says.
Marketing the roughly 35,000-square-foot space is one of his central priorities for the conference. David Kessler, director of acquisitions for Waterbridge, 247 Bedford’s owner, stops over. “We’re meeting with a lot of tenants,” he says. “It’s definitely not going to be a Payless Shoe Store or a Daffy’s. We’re looking to do something that adds to the neighborhood.”
11:30 – Richard Hodos, CBRE’s sharply dressed retail rainmaker, arrives at his company’s booth for a quick meeting with The CO. “I’m spending the entire day in meetings,” he says, showing us marketing materials for a new tenant he’s helping to roll out nationally, a British label, L.K. Bennett, that he recently helped open a store in the Time Warner Center. “Kate Middleton wears them so they’ve totally blown up,” Mr. Hodos says. Mr. Hodos eschews the ICSC cocktail party scene. “Tonight I have an intimate dinner planned with clients,” he adds. Tomorrow it’s on to Caesars Palace in the morning to meet with the large mall developers Simon, GGP and Westfield, then back to the convention center by the afternoon.