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LAS VEGAS-The spring convention of the International Council of Shopping Centers was in full swing Monday morning with the opening of the Leasing Mall, a one million-sf exhibit featuring shopping center developers and owners, retailers, municipalities and EDAs, brokers and financial institution. When all the heads are counted, nearly 40,000 attendees are expected to have filtered through the Leasing Mall, the convention sessions and the Trade Expo of the four-day event.

Last year, the event drew 36,000, but this year, going in, the pre-registration count was already 33,000. ICSC officials generally anticipate 5,000-7,000 walk-ins.

The total number of Leasing Mall exhibitors this year is a record 875, up from last year’s 850, according to Phyllis Peterson, director of leasing and dealmaking for ICSC. And the show has a bit of a new look.

“Because of the mergers and consolidations in the industry, for the first time in a long time we’ve been able to give space to companies that had not been able to get space in the past,” Peterson tells GSR. “Those changes freed up some space that had not been available for years.

“Also, a number of companies have been refitting their booths or bringing in new ones, which further gives the show a new look,” she says. But that has led to one of the challenges of getting the show up and running: “Because of all the new construction, the amount of freight coming into the show has been significantly greater, which caused some problems,” according to Peterson.

“And the fact that Las Vegas has three major shows all around the same time has made the labor pool a little thin,” she says.

One of the exhibitors directly impacted by both the merger/consolidation scenario and the booth retooling is General Growth Properties, Chicago, which absorbed the Columbia, MD-based Rouse Co. last year. The transition went “amazingly well,” according to Wally Brewster, GGP’s SVP of marketing and communications. It also required his company, which has more than 150 people at the event, to take more space, bumping its presence at the Las Vegas Convention Center from15,600 sf to more than 22,000 sf. That number puts the company in a virtual tie with Simon Property Group as the event’s largest exhibitors.

In the process, GGP gave up Rouse’s former space at the show, setting of a chain reaction involving several old and new exhibitors, according to Peterson.

According to Brewster, the event allows GGP to “finalize a lot of deals, continue conversations, look at new retailers and continue relationships. It gives the retailers a chance to see everything going on at General Growth. It allows us to show the diversity of our portfolio, and to have everything in one place,” he tells GlobeSt.com.

ICSC surveys indicate that of all the shopping center leases signed in a given year, 25% of them are either originated or finalized at the four-day event. And Fred Battisti, chief site planner for the Cafaro Co., the Youngstown, OH-based developer, concurs that number is “in the ballpark” for the amount of business his company generates during the event.

Cafaro’s participation, incidentally, began with a leasing suite in 1978 and grew to the 8,360 sf the company occupies at the LVCC now, according to Battisti. His company has 38 people at the event, including 24 leasing agents. Among the properties Cafaro is featuring is a 200,000-sf lifestyle center being added to the company’s Spotsylvania Town Centre in Fredericksburg, VA.

“The show gives us a chance to sit down with everybody, to meet everyone, at one place,” he tells GSR. “And the name recognition of being here is well worth it.”

One change he’s noticed over the years is that there are, “no more walk-ins. All appointments are pretty much pre-set before anyone arrives at the show,” Battisti says.

“I’m hearing that appointment books are loaded,” Peterson says. “Exhibitors are also telling me that with the strong national retail trends, they’re coming into this show feeling very good.

“They say they’re feeling good about the industry in general,” she concludes. “And they’re also feeling good about their companies, both developers and retailers.”

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