By  on May 7, 2007

"TRANSNATIONALIZATION" is the watchword for Vegas.

The term is a mouthful, but it's what International Council of Shopping Centers president Michael Kercheval predicts will be on the tongues and minds of the 50,000 attendees expected at this year's "Reaching Beyond the Gold" spring convention in Las Vegas.

"Transnationalization, or globalization, is going to be very prominent this year," said Kercheval, a former senior executive at Lend Lease Real Estate Investments who took over as president of ICSC in 1999. "In addition to panels and events that focus on globalization, there will be a real cornucopia of languages and cultures present.

"We thought we'd have to reach out to participants outside of North America to get them to Vegas," Kercheval added. "But they came to us from Russia, the Ukraine and even Kazakhstan, asking us how they can get to the U.S. for the conference."

In addition to discussing global issues, retail and real estate executives are buzzing about social responsibility. "In the past five years, the retailers, developers and communities have really come together to embrace social responsibility in our industry, whether it's recognizing that we are responsible for creating jobs or understanding that we're also in a position to touch consumers in terms of other issues, such as environmental sustainability," he said. "It's touching the soul of our industry."

The soul of the retail real estate business has indeed changed significantly in the ICSC's 50 years in existence. Retailers and developers now are working as partners rather than as landlord and tenant. The annual spring convention has changed, as well. What started as a meeting merely to take care of association business has become the largest event at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

This year, the convention will double in size, taking over all 2 million square feet at the center for exhibitor space and the leasing mall. The original plan was for the convention to expand to 2 million square feet in 2009, but the ICSC accelerated the process due to demand, said Kercheval.

The new size inspired other changes. Retailers will all be clustered in one area of the convention center, as investors and banks. ICSC will also introduce the Green Pavilion, a showcase of environmentally friendly real estate successes, and the Green Zone, a showcase of environmentally concerned vendors that provide products and services for retailers and developers.To help navigate the panels, the ICSC has created several educational "tracks" that lay out all the programs according to interest for those attendees who are more interested in education than networking or deal-making. For example, for someone interested in learning only about international investment, the ICSC has mapped out a schedule of each day's events in that area.

For convenience, trams will be running around the outside of the convention center so people can get from one side to another — the more sensible alternative to the scooters that the ICSC briefly considered, said Kercheval.

He said he expected the convention to continue growing. "We think that by the 75th anniversary, this will be the place to come to if you're a player in the industry anywhere in the world," said Kercheval. "Right now, we have simultaneous translation of a few of our panels, but we expect that in five to 10 years, we'll have almost everything we present translated into multiple languages. An event like this only becomes more important as our industry becomes more global."

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