The head count will be down, but the mood should be up at the International Council of Shopping Centers National Conference in New York.

This story first appeared in the November 23, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

About 5,000 shopping center owners, developers, lenders, retailers and brokers are expected to attend, which is roughly 1,000 fewer than last year. “Given the state of things, this will be a pretty strong showing,” said Marvin Morrison, senior vice president at the ICSC. “There are over 400 exhibiting companies ­­­— that’s unchanged.”

The conference, to be held at the Hilton New York and Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers on Dec. 7 and 8, has been condensed to two days from three to help keep everyone’s costs down, though the opening day this year has been extended by five hours, giving attendees enough time to network, negotiate leases and financing, research new and existing properties and do deals.

“Things are starting to brew,” Morrison said. “There is some demand. There is a lot of enthusiasm to meet with peers and engage in some deal-making. Projections for holiday sales are good, albeit conservative. We are expecting positive results,” following October’s 2.1 percent increase in comparable store sales, according to the ICSC.

Morrison acknowledged real estate activity, from construction to leasing, has been restricted with financing drying up and most retailers skittish about expansion. “We’re looking forward, finally, to a better 2010,” he added. Already, “Deals are starting to happen. People seem more spirited. They don’t seem as down as they were in the middle of the year.”

On the agenda for the conference:

• Sessions on the state of the industry and the future, with Michael Kercheval, ICSC’s president and chief executive officer; Peter Sharpe, president and ceo of The Cadillac Fairview, and luncheon speaker William A. Ackman, founder and trustee of Pershing Square Capital Management.

• The conference’s first “reconnect pavilion,” which Morrison described as “a one-stop resource” for mentoring, networking and career and job placement advice. Representatives from university graduate programs, professional career counselors, placement officers and industry mentors will be on hand.

• A “retailer runway” showcasing national retailers and their plans, including Auto Zone, Dollar Tree Stores Inc., Game Stop, Planet Fitness, REI Sporting Goods, ShopRite, Sonic and TD Bank.

Separately, the ICSC Foundation unveiled the launch in 2010 of the Mary Lou Fiala Fellowship, which was made possible by a gift of $100,000 from Regency Centers to the foundation in honor of Mary Lou Fiala, who served as the association’s 49th worldwide chairman. Before stepping down in March, Fiala was president and chief operating officer of Regency Centers Corp., a real estate investment trust that owns, operates and develops grocery-anchored and community shopping centers.

“Mary Lou has been the consummate chief operating officer since 1999, providing extraordinary leadership for Regency as well as the industry,” said Martin E. “Hap” Stein, Regency Center’s chairman and ceo.

The fellowship will be awarded annually to someone who exemplifies passion and commitment to retail real estate and a commitment to helping others through service in their communities, professions or fields of research. Each fellow will pursue a project to benefit and promote the retail real estate industry. The fellowship will include a one-year mentorship with an industry leader, an all-expense-paid course of study at the John T. Riordan School of Professional Development; a special invitation to attend ReCon, the Global Retail Real Estate Convention in Las Vegas, and speaking engagements at industry events.

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