By Stephen Pohl, Managing Broker, NAI Black, Spokane, WA
Having recently attended the ICSC Las Vegas 2023 Spring Convention, I offer a few thoughts on this 24,000+ attended meeting.
I am, however, unable to resist some brief nostalgia as an important contrast for the reader on the convention’s evolution. I initially worked for an Exxon subsidiary which developed master-planned communities — with grocery-anchored retail centers. I recall my first ICSC Spring Convention in 1982, arriving from Houston, TX on Braniff International Airlines, glad to depart the smoking section as my boss was a pack a day Camel, unfiltered, smoker. We deplaned onto the tarmac — straight into Las Vegas’ heat — via TWA boarding stairs. We were welcomed into the main terminal by none other than George Burns’ voice piped over the audio system. Uber was non-existent, so we stood in long cab lines to reach the Hilton – the convention’s host hotel. Even lacking the luxury of cell phones, the show was just as exciting then as it is now — providing the fundamental forum for developer/retail deal making. The convention floor literally hummed with activity during the 2.5 “deal making days.”
Now, as a current NAI Black broker, walking the floor with my newly-issued 25+ Years ICSC Attendance recognition lapel pin in place, the vibe of the show was every bit as productive and upbeat. Despite the crush of inflation and higher borrowing costs impacting new projects, there was an eagerness to return to pre-pandemic levels of activity. ICSC Las Vegas has always been about optimism. (A word to new attendees, make appointments well before you attend to maximize your time and wallet.) The technology available to the industry and deal-making exchanges is truly extraordinary. Tablet technology, cell phones, and laptops all create a seamless spectrum of information and data. The need to carry a briefcase of papers & files around is obsolete. The electronic media has taken center stage: Air-drop a site plan; generate a Letter of Intent; or negotiate a buy-out. Ostensibly, the speed and ease of transactional matters should portend the demise of such arguably expensive shows. AI and the rising share of on-line internet sales will determine the future.
The footprint of the 2023 show returned the convenience of the two-tiered South Hall, without the necessity of holding appointments in the North Hall. In earlier years, the Central Hall was the flagship of the convention. At that time some of the largest exhibitors were The Rouse Companies, Sears-Homart, and Simon Properties. The brokerage industry has now seemingly taken center stage with its vast exclusive representation networks and large meeting spaces. The NAI Global booth enjoys a premiere location on the South Hall upper level, and was busier than ever with scheduled meetings – where deals from around the country, and the world were in discussion.
At its core, the convention is a professional exchange of humanity. A unique opportunity to interact with colleagues who share industry knowledge. Having face-to-face meetings instills a comforting sense of sincerity, and legitimizes the Broker/Client, Landlord/Tenant relationship. In my estimation, direct human interactions close more deals than documented emails. Strangers from long distances form alliances based on trust and personal connectivity. After attending 40 consecutive conventions, I now spend an inordinate amount of time inadvertently re-connecting with industry colleagues, often creating the opportunity to re-ignite a prior deal discussion, but eventually taking stock of how far we’ve come. One can’t buy that experience. There is no App or scheduled Zoom call for that. It just happens.
The social formatting of after-hours activities has evolved predicated on the changing demographic of the attendees. The early years saw show tickets as the vehicle for rewarding loyal clients. There was a large welcoming cocktail reception by ICSC, as well as the heavily attended Kinney Shoe party in the Las Vegas Hilton Ballroom. The latter was by invitation only, but no one checked. The private parties of today are incredibly creative. Our own NW Retail Professional’s poolside event at the Paris hotel was, as always, exceptional. Since politics are local, so are many of the real estate deals in our region. Three hours of pure networking.
The evolution of the retail landscape — from downtown retail, to suburban malls; to name-brand off-price, to “category killer power centers”; to the lifestyle center (whatever that was); to what we embrace today as the “live/work /play” format. The refreshing and thoughtful confluence of planned higher density housing with supporting retail and easy access to recreational, health satisfying venues appears to be our future. The conceptual nature has an almost organic aspect to it. By way of example, our Spokane based Kendall Yards speaks to a sensible and tasteful urban-infill quality, in my opinion.
The analytics used by the retail industry has minimized the acquisition of inferior site selection. Convenience to the consumer is arguably key. “Buy on-line; pick up in-store “ is now an established trend; as is sustainability, which has generated multiple gently-used clothing formats. The power of the Internet can be a perfect ally for the retailer willing to adapt. The importance of the preservation of the “brand” has never been more important.
As a past volunteer officer, serving in five different positions, and a frequent volunteer lobbyist in Washington, DC, my thoughts on ICSC are one of support and importance to stay fluid, educationally current, develop the best practices, and form a significant network of industry colleagues. It’s always refreshing to see new faces and first-timers’ experiences.
See you next year. It’s a big show, so wear comfortable footwear, preferably made by my client, Skechers!