With 20 Years of ICSC Conventions Under Her Belt, RKF Veteran Karen Bellantoni Reigns Supreme in Vegas

Robert K. Futterman & Associates executive vice president Karen Bellantoni has attended the International Council of Shopping Centers’ RECon event in Las Vegas at least 20 times in her 25-year career, and she has seen the event blossom into a gigantic gathering of retailers and retail brokers from across the country. Ms. Bellantoni, who has represented Apple and Kiehl’s, spoke to The Commercial Observer about years past.

bellantoni a webbyweb With 20 Years of ICSC Conventions Under Her Belt, RKF Veteran Karen Bellantoni Reigns Supreme in Vegas

Karen Bellantoni.

The Commercial Observer: Give me a sense of what you’re going to be doing at ICSC. I imagine you go every year?
Ms. Bellantoni: Well, I’m going to show my age. But having said that, let’s just say well over 20 years for me.

What was it like 15 years ago, roughly?
The good news was 15 years ago everyone was in the [Las Vegas] Convention Center and they were in the North Hall and the Central Hall, and there was no such thing as the South Hall back then. And there was also no such thing as having meetings on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday outside of the convention center. In fact, you would do some meetings on Sunday just so that you got ahead of the game.

Did the retailers take it as seriously back then? Did you have as many huge corporations coming in and visiting the booths?
I don’t know what the statistics are for this year, but it’s definitely grown, and then there was a time when it got pushed back because, you know, the economy wasn’t good and so a lot of the developers didn’t send everyone out.

I just think the industry has grown. There are more properties. There’s really just one area of the South Hall—it’s really just food.

It’s funny, actually, people’s booths, maybe like five or six years ago, became mammoth. And I think that’s really where it started—a whole bunch of little booths and then next thing you know, people were taking over other people’s real estate, sort of like our, our real estate.

What’s some of the more extreme examples of those booths?
General Growth is a perfect example. General Growth originally had like one booth and then they expanded and took over, there used to be a waiting list. Probably seven years ago or eight years ago there was a waiting list. At one time we were all the way in the Central Hall, all the way to whatever that row is all the way over to the one side, and we had like a tiny, maybe like a couple of tables. And now we have like a corner of real estate location where we’ve got a much bigger booth.

Vornado was another example. They had a smaller booth and now they’ve got their much bigger booth.

What actually does one do at these conventions?

There’s a bunch of time for people to eyeball stuff, to see what’s available. And it’s also a really good time to see what retailers are out there and who’s expanding. Sometimes there are no prototypes, where people will come out and say, we’re going to be doing XYZ and we’ve got 10 stories planned. So a lot of actual deal points don’t usually get done, but what happens is that you’re going to get lease plans or you’re going to get floorplans, and you know that you’re going to get a sense of the beginning of a negotiation. And that’s really what this is about because it really is, truly, speed dating.

Because almost every retailer is out in Las Vegas, there are some really great shopping centers, and it gives you the opportunity to really go out there and see what the presence is. I go to malls, I go to other cities because I do national work, but it gives everyone in our business the opportunity to get out there and see what’s happening on the retail level beyond just New York.

What do you think people will be talking about during ISCS RECon? What are the big trends?
I think that the developers are going to be doing what they always do, which is pushing a new [expansion].
There’s going to be a lot of focus on New York as a result of that.

The retailers will be talking about one another’s businesses, where else they’re expanding, so it’s a good time to network and share the information on what they’re doing. And I think the trend is … that people are cautiously still expanding nationally and in the urban markets, New York probably being the strongest.

What is RKF’s booth going to look like this year?
It’s nice, it’s very much like RKF. It’s clean, it’s corporate, but with a little bit of color. It’ll be very much like our website. I’m sort of making this up as I go, because I just realized I don’t even know. We’ll have nice flowers. And we have an area for bigger meetings where we could have almost like a conference room, and then we have a sitting area where we’re on a corner—and we’re across from Vornado—so a lot of people seem to gather, a lot of brokers from other companies seem to gather there, the guys from CB are constantly circling, the guys from Cushman you know, it seems like they’re always circling because of our location.


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